BC ambulance changes could see higher cost to city responders

In October 2013, BCAS amended the Resource Allocation Plan, reducing the response level for certain types of calls.

The City of Burnaby sent a letter to Cranbrook city council giving an update on how changes to BC Ambulance Service (BCAS) Resource Allocation Plan have affected the city’s emergency response. At the May 7 meeting, council looked over the report. Cranbrook council has already sent a letter supporting a UBCM proposed resolution.

In October 2013, BCAS amended the Resource Allocation Plan, reducing the response level for certain types of calls.

“Basically, the summary on this one is that the ambulance service initiated some changes around what you could and could not use a siren on when you’re attending medical emergencies,” Mayor Wayne Stetski said. “The theory behind it is that it would prevent accidents from happening if the ambulances were going slower without sirens and lights to attend medical emergencies. So the City of Burnaby and their fire department analyzed what the impact of that was on first responders, which are paid for by the cities.”

Stetski explained that Burnaby studied three month periods before and after the changes, first from Aug. 1, 2013 to Oct. 28, 2013, then post-implementation from Oct. 29, 2013 to Jan. 31, 2014.

“First responders arrived on the scene and then looked at how long it took ambulance services to arrive after they got there,” he said. “It increased the average time of an ambulance arriving by about 50 per cent.”

Prior to the new policy, Burnaby found that an ambulance would arrive in about 6:38 minutes. After the policy was implemented it went up to an average of 9:21 minutes.

“There were times when first responders waited over 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive and some cases over 60 minutes,” Stetski said. “Their concern is that the public can no longer rely on timely emergency medical service from the BC Ambulance Service.”

In Burnaby, the number of incidents where fire department personnel waited for more than 30 minutes doubled, from 20 times to 44. In six incidents the wait time was more than an hour, which did not occur in the first period. A total of 2,279 medical emergency calls were received in the first period and 2,424 in the second.

The report notes that this essentially downloads some of the responsibilities of the BC Ambulance Service to the municipality by way of the fire department. In Burnaby it added $210,000 to the city budget, plus an additional $50,000 a year to maintain the higher level of emergency medical training.

Coun. Diana J. Scott said the fact that it increases the time by such a margin is scary.

“The whole reason for the lights and sirens is to get the attention of drivers so they pull over and the ambulance can get to the situation sooner,” Scott said. “I’d say alerting people with lights and sirens is way more safe than just being frustrated behind someone who is not maybe looking in his rearview mirror even though the ambulance is there.”

Coun. Angus Davis said in his experience, both the BC Ambulance Service and the Cranbrook fire department have responded in good time.

“Today they are providing good services,” Davis said. “I think they prove their capabilities and everything all the time. I don’t appreciate this. I think it’s very political.”