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Nelson Fire Rescue wants to assist first responders

Nelson fire fighter Marc Thibault and assistant fire chief Mike Daloise made a presentation at Monday’s city council meeting. - Sam Van Schie photo
Nelson fire fighter Marc Thibault and assistant fire chief Mike Daloise made a presentation at Monday’s city council meeting.
— image credit: Sam Van Schie photo

Nelson Fire Rescue is frustrated at a recent reduction in the number of emergencies BC Ambulance has been asking fire fighters to assist with.

In November 2013, BC Emergency Health Services made a 35 per cent reduction in the type of emergency calls it considers Code 3 — meaning situations that would have previously triggered both ambulance and fire crews to respond with sirens blaring, now only require an ambulance without sirens.

Nelson Fire Rescue assistant chief Mike Daloise and fire fighter Marc Thibault were at a city council meeting Monday to explain how the change has negatively impacted their ability to respond to medical emergencies and what the city might do about it.

“This new system restricts tax payer access to the local municipal emergency services that they pay for,” Daloise told council. “We believe it’s each local government’s right to decide what level of first responder service it provides to its citizens.”

He explained that, since the change in protocol, Nelson Fire Rescue has been relying on Nelson Police Department to call them about emergencies that BC Ambulance Service is no longer required to inform them about. The police can do this as a courtesy because all 911 calls go through the local detachment before being routed to the necessary emergency service.

But there’s times, when a lot of calls are coming in about an incident, that the police dispatcher is too busy to call the fire department. Daloise said he’s had residents tell him about incidents after the fact.

“I’ll be downtown and somebody will ask ‘why didn’t you come and help me,’ and it’s because we didn’t get called,” Daloise said.

Nelson Fire Rescue analyzed their response call records since the change and found that for 30 per cent of the medical calls they responded to, their assistance wasn’t requested by BC Ambulance. And of those calls they hadn’t been asked to go to, they beat the ambulance to the scene 10 per cent of the time.

For instance, in September a 14-year-old cyclist rode into a car and waited 28 minutes for an ambulance. Another time, a woman dislocated her elbow and was lying in the snow for 30 minutes before the ambulance came. In both cases, fire fighters were able to treat and comfort the victim while they waited.

“As tax payers, we pay into the system [for emergency services] all our lives, though we might only ever call 911 once,”  Thibault told council. “And we hope that when we have to make that call, everyone would show up.”

Council shared the fire fighters’ concern and agreed to take the issue to the Kootenay and Boundary Local Governments’ annual general meeting next month. The city will submit a special motion asking BC Health Services to consult local governments and fire chiefs on first responder service levels and untimely allow individual municipalities to make the decision on what level of service they want in their community.

The city will also send a letter to BC Emergency Health Services expressing its opposition to the changes.

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