June 17th, 2024

New initiative gives another tool to Willow Creek emergency response


By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald on February 8, 2023.

Photo Courtesy MD of Willow Creek The MD of Willow Creek is touting an initiative that will allow its fire departments to transport patients when an ambulance or first responder through AHS is delayed.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDdshurtz@lethbridgeherald.com

Despite ongoing controversy with Alberta Health Service’s takeover of ambulance services in communities across the province, the MD of Willow Creek is touting an initiative that will allow its fire departments to transport patients when an ambulance or first responder through AHS is delayed.

“We feel that this provides another necessary tool in our tool box of emergency response,” says Derrick Krizsan, chief administrative officer for the MD of Willow Creek. “It’s filling a gap that could potentially occur.”

The MD has adopted the operating guideline for transporting patients during prolonged response times, which will allow fire departments province-wide to transport potentially critical patients directly to a hospital or to an ambulance that is enroute to the scene of an emergency.

For the MD of Willow Creek, the initiative began in 2014 when it began a pilot project with AHS to transport critically injured patients to the nearest hospital if an ambulance wasn’t immediately available or if there was a prolonged wait time. The pilot project ran for about a year, but AHS ultimately deemed the service unnecessary.

However, the MD had purchased three ambulances or “response units” for Fort Macleod, Claresholm, and Nanton, and continued to lobby the government to let it help.

“Recently Alberta Health Services has said, hey we could probably utilize the service province wide, so this isn’t just an MD of Willow Creek initiative,” says Kelly Starling, the MD’s fire chief and director of emergency services.

MD fire departments can, through the regional dispatch service, consult with on-line medical control, and if AHS emergency medical response is delayed, a fire departments may receive permission to transport the patient to the nearest hospital.

Starling says the fire departments will not replace AHS first responders, but they will work closely with AHS and intercede only if a medical director decides it’s necessary for the patient.

“We will call in to the online control, present our level of training, present what the patient is presenting to us, and then the online medical control will advise if it’s in the best interest of the patient…to be transported.”

Starling points out that MD emergency services has always responded to incidents either as first responders or co-responders with AHS, but in the past the MD has not been allowed to transport a patient if an AHS ambulance is delayed.

Krizsan points out the MD is an extremely large municipality, which also provides emergency services to the MD of Ranchland. Together the MDs cover a huge geographical area which is difficult to cover.

“Why this is a concern is, there’s a real possibility that extended periods of response may occur just to reach these areas,” Krizsan says.

Starling assures MD residents that emergency responders have the equipment and are medically trained to meet the newly defined level of service, and the majority of them are already paramedics or emergency medical responders working for AHS and who volunteer for their respective fire departments.

Krizsan says the MD appreciates the advancement that AHS has made to recognize the role local governments and responders play in providing medical services.

“We’re grateful we are now being looked at as a partner, rather than an adversary.”

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