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Cheering on an ally

Town of Barrhead prepares to support Red Deer in their attempt to recoup fire department medical first response costs
Don Smith Sept 14-2021 copy
Town of Barrhead Coun. Don Smith said municipalities should not have to bear the financial burden when firefighters respond to medical assist calls, saying it should be the responsibility of Alberta Health Services.

BARRHEAD-Red Deer will be asking the Alberta Urban Municipalies Association (AUMA) to help lobby the provincial government in an effort for municipalities to recoup some of the costs they have to pay out when firefighters respond to an ambulance assist calls.

And Town of Barrhead councillors will be cheering them on all the way.

The AUMA is an advocacy group that works to lobby the provincial and federal government on issues concerning its members  (summer villages, villages, towns, cities and other specialized municipalities). On Sept. 14, councillors instructed the administration to prepare background information on what the impact of providing ambulance assist service is having on the municipality and its firefighters.

Coun. Don Smith raised the issue of how many times the Barrhead Regional Fire Services (BRFS) was responding to medical or ambulance assist calls at their Aug. 10 meeting.

Smith raised his concerns during chief administrative officer Edward LeBlanc's report stating that in July, the fire department responded to 23 medical assist calls.

He then asked LeBlanc to find out how many firefighter hours were taken up by medical assist calls and the estimated cost to the municipality.

According to BRFS statistics, in the first eight months of 2021, they responded to 126 medical assist calls, accounting for 362.75 firefighter hours. Out of those 126 calls, they were the first on scene 63 times.

After the meeting, LeBlanc said if the fire department was able to invoice Alberta Health Services (AHS) for the calls, using the going rate of $400 an hour for vehicles and an average of four firefighters, it would come to roughly $36,000. 

(Editor's note: At the Sept. 14 meeting, LeBlanc quoted a much higher figure, but he later called the Leader with the revised amount.)

"That is a lot of money to our budget," Smith said. "There is a lot of other places where we can put our money, especially when it is not our responsibility to assist Alberta Health Services with their ambulance calls. I can only imagine what the amount is over the last 10 to 20 years."

Smith said it was a battle council has fought before. In 2016, the municipality wrote to AUMA and the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) to help them lobby the province to help municipalities recoup some of the costs incurred by fire departments when they are called upon to assist ambulance crews.

In the past, County of Barrhead councillors have also raised concerns about the number of medical assists the department responds to, suggesting AHS has, at times, requested help from BRFS when it might not be necessary.

The BRFS is a joint service between the Barrhead municipalities. Under the Fire Services Agreement, the municipalities share fixed expenses such as training and administration equally but are on the hook for responses within their borders.

Mayor McKenzie said that in the past, the cost to the municipality would have been much greater.

In 2018, BRFS chief Gary Hove revamped the department's medical first responder dispatch plan eliminating responses to less urgent calls.

According to the council information package the BRFS responds to medical calls without a formal request from AHS in incidents classified as Level 4, or the most severe. [Level 4 includes cardiac arrests, strokes, people having difficulty breathing, lacerations, internal bleeding or trauma injuries].

"Is there anything not on that list? Our fire department is the go-to service when the ambulance is not available," Assaf said. "And that is quite often."

He also said he knows many employers are starting to question whether they should continue allowing their employees on the fire department given how often they leave to respond to calls they believe are unnecessary.

"We can't afford to lose volunteers because AHS thinks the fire department can drop everything and pick someone up," Assaf said.

Barry Kerton,


Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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