Vancouver firefighters may no longer attend certain medical calls
CTV News

When British Columbians in medical distress call 911, firefighters are often the first to arrive – but in Vancouver that may soon no longer be the case.

A leaked memo from Vancouver Fire Rescue Service Chief Karen Fry outlines a planned temporary change in the way firefighters in the city will respond to emergency medical calls.

“We will no longer respond to Orange, Yellow or non-emergency incidents,” the document says, in part.

Orange incidents are urgent and potentially serious, but not considered life-threatening.

Yellow incidents are less serious and include injuries such as an ankle sprain.

According to the memo, in 90 per cent of those cases, firefighters are waiting nearly an hour for paramedics to arrive and takeover.

In 2019, that benchmark was 32 minutes.

“Extended wait times for paramedics to arrive on scene ties up our firefighters who, due to their licensing requirements, are not permitted to leave a patient until a transfer of care is made,” Fry says in the memo.

The memo says the change would take place Wednesday and remain in effect as a trial until the end of September, but CTV News has learned the change has been postponed while VFRS and BC Emergency Health Services discuss what should happen.

VFRS would still provide medical responses for life-threatening calls, overdoses, hazardous material situations and other calls where their specialty training is required, such as technical rescues.

“Obviously, this is very concerning that they’ve changed their position on this,” said Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of BC.

He went on to say that severe staffing shortages of paramedics at BCEHS are to blame for the proposed change.

“We’re about 50 per cent full-time and 50 per cent on-call, part time, with low wages and benefits,” Clifford said. “Which is a different model than police and fire, which is primarily all full-time. And we need to get to that.”

The union representing local firefighters came out in support of the proposed change.

“Firefighters in Vancouver are encouraged by the new dialogue between VFRS and BCEHS to establish immediate and substantive changes to how we respond to non-life-threatening medical aid calls,” said Lee Lax, vice president of IAFF Local 18.

“The changes recommended by the fire chief will save lives by keeping our valuable resources available for the life-altering emergencies we respond to every day in Vancouver.”

BCEHS says it only learned of the plan this week and it is in ongoing talks with VFRS to ensure service levels are maintained.

According to Clifford, the only long-term solution is offering more compensation and better benefits to paramedics so that more can be recruited and existing staff will have less incentive to seek employment elsewhere.


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