The solution to a controversial memo from Port Coquitlam’s fire chief on how city staff should respond to medical emergencies is leaving critics scratching their heads.
City staff are now being directed to make two 911 calls if someone suffers an emergency inside a civic facility: one for an ambulance, and one for fire crews.
The unique protocol comes after the city’s fire chief Nick Delmonico sent an internal memo to staff last month, directing them to ask for fire crews when calling 911, in order to counter “a slow response time by the BC Ambulance Service.”
WATCH: (Aired Jan. 16) New B.C. 911 protocol has some patients waiting longer
Delmonico explained then that fire crews would respond more quickly while also forwarding the call to paramedics.
In an announcement released Monday, Delmonico said staff should now ask for an ambulance first, in order to talk to a medically-trained dispatcher while they send an ambulance. The second call would dispatch fire crews to ensure one of the two crews arrives quickly.
The fire chief called the solution a “win-win” after talking with members of BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), who raised concerns following the memo’s release that the first protocol wouldn’t order calls based on urgency, potentially impacting response times further.
“Our primary concern has always been to ensure that our staff are supported and that our residents are provided with a prompt medical response and the highest quality of care. We’re committed to working collaboratively to achieve that,” Delmonico said in a statement.
But Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. union president Cameron Eby said the new protocol, while addressing his own concerns, would also stretch resources thin for both paramedics and fire crews.
“It’s disappointing to see that there is going to be a duplicate 911 call, purely for the purpose of making sure first responders go to a call that the medical evidence doesn’t support needing their attendance at,” Eby said Thursday.
Eby added the issue that sparked the controversy in the first place — ambulance response times — is being addressed with additional hires.
“We do have staffing issues, particularly in the Lower Mainland, and that translates into longer wait times,” he said.
When asked about the protocol Thursday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said similar concerns have been raised in other municipalities, but insisted an ambulance should still be the first request when calling 911.
“It’s in the best interest of the person needing help to [call for an ambulance],” Dix said. “But paramedics need to work together well with fire crews to respond to emergencies, and overall they do.
“When there’s disagreements [between paramedics and fire crews] they need to be worked out, and that’s what BCEHS is doing in Port Coquitlam.”
BCEHS, meanwhile, is supporting the decision to change the protocol.
“Requesting an ambulance connects callers to experienced medical call-takers who can coach them through life-saving techniques while help is on its way” CEO Barb Fitzsimmons said in a statement.
“That is why it is critically important that the message is clear on what to do if you call 9-1-1 with a medical emergency.”
— With files from Catherine Urquhart and Simon Little
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