BC Ambulance. (Priyanka Ketkar photo/Lakes District News)

B.C. ambulance’s changes could mean reduced service and slower response time, says Burns Lake fire chief

The proposed BC ambulance staffing changes could prove detrimental to the residents, warns the local fire chief.

Robert Krause, the director of protective services and local fire chief for the village of Burns Lake, expressed his concern over the proposed staffing changes in BC Ambulance, during a council meeting.

“With the new “Scheduled On-Call” (SOC) system that has been proposed for Burns Lake, the community will gain three SOC positions, however this will actually result in a reduction of service. For eight hours of each 24-hour shift there will be two paramedics in station. For the remaining 16 hours these Paramedics will be on pager within a “reasonable response time”. We have been advised that a Paramedic living 10 minutes from the station will be allowed to be at home on standby for the 16-hour portion of their shift. This will result in dispatch time increasing from 90 seconds under the current model, to potentially 12-15 minutes,” he said.

The new staffing model refers to a new type of paramedic shift that has regularly scheduled on-call hours as opposed to waiting for availability of on-call paramedics. SOC paramedics will be paramedics with regular shifts and will receive full wages.

According to BCEHS, these changes will improve emergency response coverage and create a more stable paramedic workforce especially in the remote, rural areas where workforce retention has historically been a problem.

However, Krause disagreed with BCEHS’ hypothesis and said that the new SOC positions will not help with the shortfall of paramedics as most, if not all, of the positions will be filled with current part-time paramedics, already working in Burns Lake. Without additional fulltime SOC positions, Burns Lake will continue to suffer from a shortage of paramedics to cover all required shifts.

In previous years Burns Lake benefited from an ambulance station that was manned with a minimum of two paramedics, around the clock, resulting in an approximate dispatch time of 90 seconds. Under current staffing shortages Burns Lake only has 65 per cent of the required staffing and has been without a Unit Chief for over six months.

“With the lack of paramedic staffing in Burns Lake, the Volunteer Fire Department has seen a 10 per cent increase in medical calls for the first six months of 2021. Given the additional time delays for 16 hours of each day under the proposed SOC system it is easy to assume that this trend will continue or possibly get worse. This puts a strain on the municipal resources and forces volunteers to leave work and family in order to provide an acceptable level of service to the community,” he added.

Changes to the delivery system will have consequences for our community that will result in reduced service and slower response time, warned Krause.

The village staff will now be preparing a report on what the impact of SOC system for BC Ambulance would have on the emergency service response times and what impact it would have on the village’s volunteer fire department. The report would then be presented to the council for review and the next steps would be determined accordingly.

ALSO READ: BC Ambulance changes coming to Burns Lake