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Rural residents want address confusion to end

Emergency vehicles end up at the wrong address since rural addressing implemented

ATHABASCA – On June 23, ambulance services were required at Westwind Park, eight kilometres southwest of Athabasca, and even though the correct information was given the ambulance ended up at the wrong home. 

Residents are not blaming the ambulance personnel however — they want Athabasca County to fix the issue and say they have been asking for a fix for over three years saying the problem lies with lots being identified in two ways. The white signs are linked to the legal description of the lot and mark the CC valve location. The blue signs are linked to emergency services. The two numbers on any given lot also do not match each other. 

That is not the only problem with the dual numbers residents said – the county bills using the white sign but Epcor uses the blue sign. AltaGas uses the white sign. To sell a lot, the bank requires the blue number, but not all lots have had the blue numbers installed since questions started being raised by residents in 2017. 

“The county bills using the unit number (white sign) method to bill (bear in mind they are the ones who installed the blue ones), Epcor uses the 911 unit number (blue) way of billing, AltaGas does the unit number (white) method to bill … the pizza guy does his best (and) the RCMP just knock on doors until they get it right,” said resident Deb Weber in an unsent letter to Athabasca County council. 

So, when the ambulance was called June 23 and given the emergency number of 37, they ended up at Lot 37 which has an emergency number of 61. It then took neighbours almost 10 minutes to convince the EMTs they were at the wrong address and even then, only after they were able to gain entry to verify it was empty. 

The EMTs were doing their job, said Weber and fellow Westwind residents Val Sorokoski, Debbie Knahs and Linda Gaston agreed. No one is blaming them, but those 10 minutes could mean someone dies next time. 

“The ambulance was not in the wrong ... they punch in the numbers or whatever into the the GPS, and they told you it brought them right here,” said Gaston to Weber while describing the incident. 

It was Gaston’s home the ambulance first arrived at while she was away at a meeting. 

“Yeah, dispatch gave them that address and that’s what they punched in,” Weber said. 

When Athabasca County reeve Larry Armfelt was contacted June 25 by the Advocate, he said he thought the problem had been dealt with, but would add it to the agenda for the county meeting that day. 

“We should be over that. We can have all that straightened out with the ambulance service … I will put that on the agenda this morning and just make sure that we get ahold of the ambulance people again, because whoever phoned in, in my opinion, did it exactly correct,” Armfelt said. 

At the meeting when Armfelt brought the subject up and asked CAO Ryan Maier for clarification, Maier confirmed residents should be using the blue signs and added the issue has been dealt with from his perspective. 

“We’ve been through this conversation with people at Westwind several times. It’s in place, everything has been given to emergency services. It has been done,” Maier told council. 

According to the county website, “Rural addressing information is assigned and maintained by Athabasca County. Rural addresses are shared with TELUS Communications to link to TELUS 911, 911 Dispatch and emergency responders.” 

Residents insist the issue has not been dealt with, noting many lots within Westwind Park do not have blue signs and Weber said her husband made his own when they sold a lot. 

“Ron had to make a blue number because we couldn't sell the lot without it for (the buyer) to get a mortgage. They needed an emergency address. And (Athabasca County) didn't have one. We phoned them and they were out of them and they wouldn't be getting them anytime soon,” Weber said, adding the home-made number is still in place two years later. 

Coun. Travais Johnson said at the council meeting that the ambulance service has a high-tech dispatch system and if given the number on the blue sign, they should be able to pinpoint an exact spot.  

Which raises the question of whether the blue signs were tagged correctly in GPS to begin with and Armfelt wants it delved into further.

"We need to get clarification and fix it up."

Since the blue numbers were installed, the residents can recall at least four times, including this last time, where the ambulance went to the wrong home and each time it was to the same lot number as the emergency number given to 911. 

In a written statement from Donna Horseman on behalf of her husband who needed the ambulance June 23 she wrote, “A few years ago a lady three doors down was having a heart attack. Instead of the ambulance arriving at her blue sign, they knocked on our door (white lot number) and said, ‘You don’t look like you are having a heart attack.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not.’” 

For now, the residents of the park hope nothing tragic happens before the issues they have been raising for years are addressed. 

“It’s just sad. It’s really why I was so upset (that) night. What if he was to die? How many times do you have to do this,” Knahs said.

– With files from Chris Zwick

Heather Stocking,
Follow me on Twitter @HLSox