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Ambulance response times “ridiculous,” says Boyle mayor

Councillors hear from fire chief for insight on how the shortage is affecting other first responders

BOYLE – Village of Boyle councillors don’t want platitudes and they don’t want explanations — they want solutions to the situation being brought to light about the availability of ambulances in the Boyle area, and they want them now. 

At their Nov. 10 regular meeting, Boyle councillors had their first opportunity to discuss the ongoing situation with ambulance response times, which was brought home and punctuated with an incident that required a 90-minute trip for an ambulance based in Barrhead to get to Boyle on Halloween night. 

Boyle fire chief Darren Hill was also in attendance to share his concerns that the long medical response times being experienced in the region currently are having an impact on volunteer firefighters, who are now often arriving first at scenes and must stand in as medical first responders. 

“We're all volunteer firefighters with first-aid, so we don't have the training like EMS or a paramedic does,” Hill told council.  

Coun. Shelby Kiteley pointed out that in the paperwork Hill submitted as part of his delegation package included stats from the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), which has been documenting the ambulance shortage across the province since August, it stated there were 22 instances since then where response times exceeded 60 minutes. 

“Are you guys trained to administer that kind of care?” she asked. 

Hill replied they do their best, but firefighters are bound by law not to transport patients to hospital and to wait for an ambulance.  

“Not the care an EMT would do. We can do the care anybody can do, anybody else with first aid, we’re doing the same thing,” Hill said. 

On top of that, he said, firefighters are arriving at these calls without even being told there will be no ambulance when they arrive. 

“I guess I first became aware of it when we went to a call and we weren't aware that an ambulance was not going to be there when we arrived,” Hill told council, adding that at this particular incident RCMP were first on the scene, followed by the fire department, and then an ambulance from Athabasca, more than half-hour away responded to the call. “Over the years, we've always gone to a call and there's always been an ambulance there and we've just been there to assist them.” 

According to the HSAA EMS Facebook page, where the information the union is being shared after members self-report, there were also at least 52 times when response times exceeded 30 minutes between Aug. 28 and Oct. 26. One incident near the Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement, east of Boyle, saw a man die following an ATV accident where it took 61 minutes for an ambulance from Redwater to arrive. 

It also notes at least 66 communities experienced at least one ambulance being parked for at least one shift in those two months due to a lack of staff — three times in Boyle, including one occasion where two were parked on the same day; four in Barrhead; two in Athabasca; and one in Westlock.  

Hill said he is now driving by the Associated Ambulance building during the day, just so he knows how many ambulances are in town. 

“It's obviously important to us,” commented Colin Derko. “You and your crew, as volunteer members in our community have been downloaded on enough already, in my opinion, a long time ago it was too much, and now this is just simply ridiculous.” 

Hill went on to say this has been one of the busiest years he has seen for the department between fire and accident calls, medical assists and alarm calls and “it just kind of made me think, how many more times are we going to be called if there's no ambulance in Boyle.” 

“I’m sorry you guys are having to deal with this,” Derko told Hill. “We're going to do what we can to get in front of the right people and find out what the solution is, because finding out why is not enough. Finding a solution is 99 per cent of our focus. 

Later in the meeting, council further discussed the information Hill brought forward. 

Derko said he had spoken to Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock MLA Glenn van Dijken about the subject recently but didn’t share a lot of details other than to express van Dijken’s shared concern. The mayor also suggested a strongly worded letter be sent out to the parties involved, as well as a full-court press on the subject at this week’s AUMA conference.  

Coun. Barb Smith said she was encouraged by the communication between the MLA and mayor, but wants to see more done, and soon. 

“We need to be moving as swiftly as we can … because this is concerning our community, and if we don’t do our due diligence, people’s lives are at risk and I’m not willing to not say something,” she said. 

Council passed two motions following the discussion — one directing administration to pen a “strongly worded” letter to the MLA, the health minister, AHS and premier Jason Kenney and to include the two neighbouring counties, AUMA and RMA; and the other to continue having dialogue with van Dijken on the matter. 

About the Author: Chris Zwick

Athabasca Advocate editor
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