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Metro Vancouver firefighters part of solution to ambulance crises, says Delta mayor

The Emergency Medical Assistants Management Licensing Board will examine firefighters' scope of practice
delta, bc firefighters
Mayor George Harvie is hoping the role of fire fighters will increase in addition to the emergency responder system getting more paramedics, dispatchers and ambulances.

Delta Mayor George Harvie says it’s about time the provincial government stepped in to look at increasing the first responder role of firefighters.

The province last week announced it is acting to improve ambulance response times and support emergency workers.

Several measures were outlined including directing the Emergency Medical Assistants Management Licensing Board to examine expanding firefighters' scope of practice.

Harvie said he had a lengthy meeting with other Metro Vancouver mayors a week ago and the group is extremely upset about the state of the system.

More staffing for ambulances has been desperately needed a long time ago, but the focus should remain on the patient, he said, adding firefighters can respond to many emergency calls quicker.

“We’ve had so much resistance from the BCEHS (BC Emergency Health Services) board over the years and I remember even attending a meeting of the board as city manager a number of years ago and they were adamant we should not be attending those types of calls,” said Harvie. “I have no respect for the past people who were involved in the administration and they did not do anything to improve service to people who make the calls and, just as importantly, to the ambulance. They’ve been underpaid, overworked and treated awfully over the years and it’s time that is corrected.”

In a joint letter to the province earlier this year, Harvie and nine other Metro Vancouver mayors noted long delays for ambulance service should prompt the province to reconsider the role of other municipal emergency responders.

The mayors said they are concerned about the impacts of staffing shortages at the provincial ambulance service on response times and patient care.

Delta continues lobbying to have BC Emergency Health Services notify the Delta fire department and other fire departments of more emergency medical dispatches.

It’s been a contentious issue since 2015, when Delta rolled out a new program to provide enhanced medical aid by firefighters who received additional training.

Subsequent changes to 911 protocols resulted in the fire department being notified about medical calls only in certain cases, prompting complaints about long wait times for ambulances when firefighters can arrive much sooner to assist.

“You just can’t switch a light on and suddenly expect more ambulance professionals,” added Harvie. “It takes time and I’m still worried about the remainder of the summer here. What happens if we have more intense heat? I am very happy I have my fellow mayors working together as a united voice saying we want to have a change.”

The Metro mayors have requested a meeting with Health Minister Adrian Dix on the first responder issue including expanding the role of firefighters, he added.

The deadline for recommendations by Emergency Medical Assistants Management Licensing Board is Sept. 6, 2021.