Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services is proceeding with a plan to reduce its responses to a range of emergency medical calls, Global News has learned.
Starting Tuesday, firefighters will only respond to life-threatening calls, overdoses, burns, hazmat emergencies, motor vehicle crashes and technical rescues. Responses to emergency calls that do not meet that criteria, as well as any non-emergency calls, will be reduced.
The plan was detailed in an internal memo sent to BC Emergency Health Services staff on Monday, which was obtained by Global News.
The memo says the plan to limit firefighter responses will “help mitigate the impact of unprecedented call volumes, and challenges with staffing.” The change will be implemented on a trial basis until Sept. 30.
“Although firefighter first responders offer comfort to patients with less-severe medical needs, we do not believe this approach will impact patient safety, as the fire service is generally not involved in providing clinical interventions for patients with non-life threatening conditions,” the memo reads.
Global News reported earlier this month that Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services was planning the policy change, citing an internal memo from Fire Chief Karen Fry.
However, last-minute talks between VFRS and BCEHS led the fire service to put the plan on hold, according to sources familiar with the conversations.
It was not immediately clear if those talks changed the policy in any way. Monday’s memo says BCEHS supports the policy change “and will be collaboratively monitoring the implementation of this change with (VFRS) for any patient safety concerns.”
The issue comes amid ongoing pressure on B.C.’s health-care system, including long-running concerns about staffing and delays with both the ambulance service and 911.
The policy change will now go into effect amidst a scorching heat wave encompassing much of the province, with temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius in some regions.
Last year’s heat wave saw more than 600 people die in B.C. as first responders were stretched thin, 911 calls overwhelmed call centres and some patients were forced to wait more than half an hour for an ambulance.
Fry’s earlier memo outlining the policy change cited those delays, explaining firefighters are required to wait to transfer care to paramedics before responding to another call.
“VFRS has seen wait times increase, to where we are on scene for nearly one hour for 90 per cent of our (non-life-threatening) responses in 2022; this is up from 32 minutes in 2019,” Fry wrote.
Monday’s memo added the policy change aligns with what was in place during much of the COVID-19 pandemic to limit “unnecessary exposures” to the virus.
—With files from Simon Little