January 16th, 2021

Union criticizes AHS dispatch decision

By Jensen, Randy on August 5, 2020.

The Lethbridge branch of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 237 says the province's plans to consolidate call centre dispatch services could end up costing local lives. Herald file photo by Ian Martens

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald


The Lethbridge branch of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 237 says the province’s plans announced on Tuesday to consolidate all South Zone EMS call centre dispatch services, including Lethbridge’s, in Calgary could end up costing local lives.

“We have already seen delays when (EMS) calls go through Calgary of 10 to 12 minutes,” states IAFF Local 237 president Warren Nelson in response to the decision by AHS to give 180 days notice to terminate EMS dispatch services at the Lethbridge call centre. “They can say it saves a lot of money, but at what cost? If delaying response to critically ill or injured patients by that 10 to 12 minutes we can expect before an appropriate apparatus, namely a fire truck with advanced care paramedics on it, can be dispatched, it’s going to end up costing lives.”

Because Lethbridge has an integrated fire and EMS system, Nelson says Alberta Health Service’s decision is particularly short-sighted as local firefighters also work as medics for the ambulance service. The current call centre in Lethbridge dispatches both fire and EMS personnel as well as local police services.

Right now one call from a citizen in need to a single call centre creates a rapid response time, says Nelson, as the local dispatchers work seamlessly with one another to dispatch the right units at the right time. And in Lethbridge, he adds, often a fire truck can be dispatched to the scene of a medical emergency first if no ambulance is readily available or nearby as the fire truck is also manned by qualified paramedics.

By untying one aspect of that integrated service, namely EMS dispatch, and shunting it through Calgary, AHS will create a communication lag in the system which will inevitably lead to confusion and slower response times, says Nelson, and, by doing so, put local citizens’ lives at greater risk.

“As it works now, the dispatcher just turns to the fire dispatcher and says, ‘We don’t have a unit in that area. Can you send the pump (truck)?'” he explains. “Then the nearest pump or rescue vehicle is sent. So we have a very quick response. Now what’s going to happen is if Calgary dispatches that ambulance, there is going to have to be another call from the Calgary dispatch centre back to our dispatch centre in Lethbridge for them to request the fire apparatus to go to that. That’s if that is in their protocols, and that is an ‘if’ at this time.”

Nelson says Lethbridge has had a successfully integrated emergency system for over 100 years which is proven to work and save lives by reducing response times.

“We are gravely concerned about the safety of our citizens,” Nelson states. “I really hope we can have AHS rethink this.”

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The UCP will save a few millions of dollars each year to provide poorer EMS service to people in Lethbridge and a few other cities. How many of us will die unnecessarily to save this money? Penny wise; pound foolish. This is what happens when a government values money over people.