EDITORIAL: Sirens song

BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) is defending a Resource Allocation Plan that has downgraded some medical emergencies from Code 3 to Code 2.

That means only the fire department responds with lights and sirens at speeds above posted limits while the ambulance drives at posted limits and gets there later.

Much later say some local fire departments.

Recently Burnaby’s deputy fire chief wrote to Dr. William Dick, the vice-president of medical programs for BCEHS, detailing 11 cases since last October where his fire fighters had to wait more than an hour at a medical call before an ambulance showed up. There were another 67 incidents where the wait was longer than 30 minutes.

But according to BCEHS, the change in ambulance response time has actually allowed paramedics to get to serious Code 3 emergencies quicker, by about one minute. The downgraded Code 2 calls now take about 10 minutes longer in the Lower Mainland. But there’s less potential for accidents, and the change isn’t affecting patient outcome.

Burnaby-Deer Lake NDP MLA Kathy Corrigan says most firefighters are trained to do basic first aid, not to assess patients or administer medical treatment. Waiting for paramedics to arrive is “rolling the dice.”

Municipal governments around the Lower Mainland say this change in service is downloading. Instead of increasing resources to handle the growing demand for service, the province is reducing some services to hold the line on costs.

BCEHS argues the firefighters should slow down to some of their calls as well.

That’s little comfort to a patient who’s just suffered a seizure, or a senior who’s just tumbled down stairs.


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