By Woodard, Dale on September 5, 2020.
Delayed response times and a lack of familiarity of the area are a local concern following Alberta Health Services recent announcement that ambulance dispatch services will be consolidated across the province, pulling Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Wood Buffalo into existing Emergency Medical Services dispatch centres.
Speaking at the opening session of the 53rd season Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs Thursday, guest speaker and president of the International Association of Fire Fighters’ Local 237 Warren Nelson felt critical extra time and unfamiliarity with the city layout could compromise efficient service for southern Albertans.
LFD has several concerns with AHS’s Emergency Medical Services decision to remove local EMS dispatch from Lethbridge and move it to Calgary, feeling it will create delays in dispatching of fire units that also provide advanced life support to citizens.
When a call comes in, the 911 caller will still get a municipal dispatcher here, said Nelson, who has been with the Lethbridge Fire Department for 22 years.
“They will ask what service is needed: police, fire or EMS. If they say EMS they have to transfer that call to an AHS 911 dispatcher, which will be in Calgary. That dispatcher will dispatch one of the ambulances, and at this time it is still a Lethbridge Fire Department unit that is being contracted to AHS-EMS. So they will be dispatching one of our own units to a location in the area. If that EMS unit requires fire or police, they have to contact the municipal 911 dispatcher who then will dispatch fire. Or if it’s a motor vehicle accident they might need both fire and police, they have to contact the municipal 911 dispatcher and then they will dispatch the appropriate further response.
“If it was back the other way that same dispatcher could screen the call, realize it’s not just an EMS call, it’s both fire and EMS or they need police and right away and it’s given to the other dispatcher within our single dispatch centre to continue the call.”
A general knowledge of the city and its layout is another concern.
“So often dispatchers get calls and somebody is out for a walk and has no idea where they are,” said Nelson. “They’ll say they’re at the dog run. Lethbridge has three large dog runs. Somebody is Calgary is not going to have an idea which dog run they’re at, they’ll just send an ambulance. Everybody here probably knows that our city is so spread out and it’s a long way from the northside dog run to the one on the southside or the westside. Or they’re at the park with the big lake on it. Is that Henderson or Nicholas Sheran?
“Unless it’s a specific address the dispatchers in Calgary are not going to know which unit to send, let alone exactly where to go. Our dispatchers are all familiar with the city. They live here. They know if you’re in a park and can see the water tower, that’s Henderson Lake.”
Nelson said they’re requesting concerned people to contact Lethbridge MLA East Nathan Neudorf at (403) 320-1011 or email Lethbridge.East@assembly.ab.ca.
They can also contact Health Minister Tyler Shandro at (403) 640-1363 or email at Calgary.Acadia@assembly.ab.ca.
“There have been moves to consolidate EMS each time in the past and each time the health minister looked at it and said ‘no’. For these particular services it makes sense to keep them separate,” said Nelson. “That’s what we’re asking Health Minister Shandro to do.”
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