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BC ambulance service use pagers; “vital link in the chain”

The on-call two person ambulance crew dispatched to last week’s pedestrian accident took 19 minutes to respond. The 61-year-old woman died and according to several sources, one of the paramedic’s pagers did not go off; which resulted in a delay in getting to the scene of the accident.

“Most ambulances in small to medium communities around the province rely on ‘call-out’ crews and the method of which our dispatch centre contacts those ‘call-out’ crews is through a pager system,” Paramedics Union spokesperson Cameron Eby told Global News.

“So if that pager system isn’t working properly that’s a vital link in the chain.”

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BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) says it has investigated the call and according to its’ reports, the single pager failure did not result in the woman’s death.

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“There is no issue for us when a pager fails because we immediately know in dispatch whether a page has been received or not,” said Linda Lupini with BCEHS. “And we have a backup system, and that’s to contact the paramedic by cellular phone.”

But on-call paramedics say there is no official backup system and they don’t have company phones. Instead they rely on a buddy system, where they call each other on personal cell phones to ensure their partners actually got the radio transmitted page.

Global News has learned there have been at least four ambulance pager failures in the past month in the Squamish area. Paramedics are concerned saying, the system is not reliable right now and no one knows why the failures are happening.

The solution according to the union, is full-time paramedics at the station 24 hours a day for the entire week and not ‘call-out’ crews.

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“Literally every second counts, so relying at all on ‘call-out’ crews is something we don’t support,” Cameron said.

“We think every ambulance in the province should be staffed with paramedics ready to go at the station and that would eliminate this situation.”

But Lupini said, “that if a paramedic has a concern, we would be immediately responsive to that concern. No official notice has come to us about any major issue in Squamish around pagers and we do have a back-up system.”

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BCEHS says a technical expert has been sent to Squamish to do a full investigation on the pagers.

~ with files from Rumina Daya

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