Wait for an Ambulance May Grow Longer in Squamish

By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: April 6, 2014

In April this year, emergency dispatch was called to help a woman in Brackendale.

The first responders arrived to find a woman unconscious on the bathroom doorway. They started their diabetic protocol on her and administered two tubes of glucose.

It was just another 911 call, but the first responders in this case were fire fighters, not trained paramedics. The paramedics arrived 35 minutes later.

Similarily, on April 8, dispatch received call for a male who was unconscious and seemed like he wasn’t breathing.

Fire fighters responded to the scene, once again, and found a man suffering from anxiety disorder. In this case, the ambulance arrived 20 minutes later.

Incident like these two above, gleaned from a FOI request, may become more common as a consequence of BC Ambulance downgrading its Code 3 responses.

If you’ve waited for an unreasonably long period for an ambulance, please contact Gagan Ghuman at 604-849-0728 or at news@squamishreporter.com

In November last year, BC ambulance downgraded 74 types of  calls from emergency to routine after a review of over 900 calls.

BCAS claims the downgrading from Code 3 will reduce accidents that happen from blazing light and sirens and to ensure the emergency calls are properly prioritized.

The downgrade means fire fighters are first responders in many cases, providing medical help while waiting for BC Ambulance to arrive.

There have been few incidents where fire fighters had to wait for ambulance because of downgraded, said Squamish fire chief Russ Innoye.

But that might change as the town’s population grows, he added.

“It has fairly minimal impact on our community now, but if they continue to keep this change in place, we are going to experience more and more calls,” he said.

Although fire fighters can assess the situation and upgrade the call, Innoye said patients may have to wait unnecessarily for longer period of time.

Squamish’s small size will shield it from major upheaval, but downgraded services have led to disputes between BCAS and fire departments in Vancouver and Surrey.

Opposition critics charge the program has worsened wait times with patients having to wait for as many as two hours for an ambulance to arrive.

Speaking in the provincial legislature, the MLA for New Westminster, Judy Darcy gave several examples where patients waited for two hours for the paramedics to arrive.

“A 103-year-old man fell from his wheelchair and suffered a head injury, while a 90-year-old woman bled from an injury to the back of her head as she waited for an ambulance to arrive,” she said.

A few months ago, Vancouver Sun reported on the case of a woman who waited for an ambulance on the pavement outside her daughter’s home for more than an hour with a broken hip.

A dispatcher, the Sun reported, re-tasked the ambulance call four times to other calls as she was considered a routine call.

In scenarios like these, first responder fire fighters may have to do more ambulance work. And that means local government will have to invest more in the fire services.

“If it starts to tax our fire resources, we may have to add a full-time person sooner than we thought,” said Coun. Doug Race.

District of Squamish has joined 32 other municipalities to passed a unanimous motion, stating that the government’s policy has created an “unprecedented downloading of costs and risks.”

Coun. Race said he hopes the provincial government will realise that local government has to be compensated for providing pre-hospital care.

Dr. Martha Dow, a SFU professor, recently wrote a research paper that concluded wait times for Code 2 calls have doubled, but there has been only a slight improvement in Code 3 wait times.

The ambulance services couldn’t comment by publication time.