June 14th, 2024

Strain on EMS response in Lethbridge evident, says union

By Lethbridge Herald on January 10, 2023.

Herald photo by Al Beeber An ambulance and police vehicle respond to a call at the downtown transit terminal early Tuesday morning.

Alejandra Pulido-Guzman – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – apulido@lethbridgeherald.com

The International Association of Fire Fighters Lethbridge Local 237, which represents firefighters and paramedics in Lethbridge, recently voiced their concerns about ambulance availability and EMS response times across the city on social media.  

In a recent Tweet, the union said that over the last few days they have seen situations where no physical ambulance is available to respond. 

“We have seen our closest ambulance responding from rural communities over 30 minutes away,” reads the tweet. 

During a virtual media event Monday, Fire Chief Greg Adair said they recognize there is a lot of strain on the EMS system provincially and is not only isolated to Lethbridge. 

“We recognize it as does AHS, and AHS is diligently working to try to address these shortcomings. They recognize that certainly the calls are outpacing the resources here in Lethbridge and provincially, so they’re working on a number of plans and initiatives to try to overcome that,” said Adair. 

He said one of them is the AHS 10 point plan, through which they are trying to increase resources and address some of these issues. 

“They’ve also just recently in December rolled out a new initiative called the non-ambulance transfer program, and what that will do is that it will free up some of the ambulance and paramedics,” said Adair. 

He said through that program ambulances will not be required to do return transfers of patients who do not require medical assistance, patients that only require a means of transportation to drive them from either the hospital back to their health care facility, or hospital to appointment.

“This is a really good initiative as that will help relieve that pressure within the EMS system, so that more ambulances are available,” said Adair. 

In their tweet, the IAFF Local 237 also state that their fire trucks respond with Advanced Care Paramedics and continually bridge this gap for the community, at times waiting on scene for an ambulance to arrive for long periods of time. 

“This is not a new issue and has been highlighted over an extremely busy holiday season,” reads the tweet. 

Adair admitted that sometimes they have to wait longer for an ambulance to arrive and it does take up some capacity there, but fortunately they do have the training and the equipment to do that. 

“It does impact the system from that standpoint, but our staff are trained and when they are hired here in Lethbridge, because we’re an integrated department, they are trained to do EMS work and fire work, so they’re trained and ready and given the tools to do that.” 

He said they could be on an ambulance one day and the next day they could be on a fire truck, and therefore they are well versed and ready to go whenever that call comes in for them. 

“One of the bonuses to living in Lethbridge is our medical first response piece. On all of our fire trucks we have trained paramedics, trained to the same level that you would receive in an ambulance,” said Adair. 

He said that in addition to that, all of their fire apparatuses carry medications equivalent to that of an ambulance. 

Adair said that in the City of Lethbridge when people call 911 and have a medical emergency they could have an ambulance and depending on the severity of the EMS call, they could have a fire truck respond. 

“So, should an ambulance not be available, or have a delayed response, a fire truck will respond and arrive to your house within a reasonable time frame, they will then provide you with ELS (Emergency Life Support) medical first response, until such time that an ambulance can come and do the transport,” said Adair. 

And when it comes to the increase in call volume Adair said he believes is due to a combination of factors they are trying to work through. 

“I would suggest it’s not one thing in particular, it’s a number of things that are increasing the EMS call volumes. We are still working through the COVID pieces, we still work through our opioid crisis and overall we’re just having more and more call volume of EMS related, so all those things put together our call volume continues to increase,” said Adair. 

Even though the call volume is high and they are trying to navigate through them and be able to respond to calls in a timely fashion, Adair said he is optimistic they will see a better response time through the city and the province in the coming months thanks to the changes AHS is implementing. 

“Hopefully they’ll be able to implement some of these positive changes. It is good that the premier and Alberta Health Services are working on these solutions,” said Adair. 

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First of all we need to start collecting ‘accurate’ data on where the EMS are dispatched to, and more importantly . . . the reason.
When you go to the Alberta Substance Use Surveillance System and look at the EMS responses you see they only respond to 8-15 opioid overdoses per week in Lethbridge. This is a serious error!
The picture on this article shows EMS and a police vehicle in front of the Park N Ride terminal downtown, where EMS responds to several times per day for suspected overdoses. Rarely is someone taken to hospital, or detox and all these resources are wasted when a smaller specifically trained unit for overdoses, not needing trauma paramedic training, could be sent in a mini-van with 2-3 other people, maybe for crowd control who do not need fire/paramedic training. Most of the time the patient has already had Narcan or Naloxone administered and refuses further treatment by EMS.
When EMS is sent to suspected overdoses they will have a fire truck respond with them, which could be a ladder truck, engine or rescue vehicle to support them and in one instance a couple of weeks ago I saw a ladder truck and rescue truck supporting EMS until LPS arrived due to an unruly crowd. At one point there were two fire trucks, EMS and 3 police units!
I have seen 3 different EMS units responding to 3 different overdoses at the same time in the downtown.
This is where many of our resources are going . . . the addicts and homeless!
I cannot stress this enough . . . the addiction and homeless issues are costing us over $10 million each year just in Lethbridge taxpayer dollars, not including the tens of millions in federal and provincial tax dollars spent here and all that to deal with about 150 deviant criminals that we have been brainwashed into calling the city’s most vulnerable.
This band of rebels are not the truly homeless who for no cause of their own have hit hard times, yet the non-profits who make money from them want us to think that way so they can continue getting our tax dollars and many of those are not from Lethbridge. I do trust and support Streets Alive and know when they were asked by the city to supply a warming center, they and the city never expected the large numbers who went there, at times about 100 when Streets Alive stated on the news they had room for up to 60.
This will never end until we do as many other US states and recently, some major Canadian cities are doing . . . that is cutting back funding which supports these band of rebels, denying encampments, enforcing laws and giving them a choice, work for living or move on, because you cannot live on our streets and destroy our cities anymore as you commit crimes.
Just by seeing how many times EMS responds to suspected overdoses downtown alone, I would guess that it would be over 20 times per day, and over 30 times per day when peak times hit after the addicts/homeless get their support cheques.
That takes a lot of resources each day away from fire and EMS, and often police are called as well. LPS responds to the Park N Ride terminal multiple times per day as well for several reasons.
This is just downtown . . . EMS and LPS respond several times per day to the Shelter as well . . . and, let’s not forget there are addiction issues in several areas of the city!
We need to end this gong-show and stop pampering and enabling these criminals who are also taking many of the donor dollars from many other organizations, since they go to the soup kitchen and food banks as well and everytime I walk downtown I see what was good untouched food laying on the ground they didn’t want . . . I have watched this group after they left a food bank sit on a bench and throw food they just got on the ground because they didn’t want it. No appreciate for free things given to them!
Our EMS, fire members and LPS members are all tired of the tough jobs they face each and every day in this city that causes burn-out due to understaffing and busy shifts.
We need to rethink how we are dealing with the issue!

Last edited 1 year ago by ewingbt