Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Prince Rupert Fire/Rescue raises alarm over BC Ambulance staffing shortages and impact on Fire Department

A staffing shortage for BC Ambulance in Prince Rupert is
of a growing concern for the city's Fire Rescue service

The growing crisis in BC Health care is starting to have an impact in Prince Rupert it would appear, with the City of Prince Rupert detailing  some concerns from the Prince Rupert Fire Rescue Department, which has noted of an ongoing short staffing situation with the BC Ambulance Service in the city.

Through the City of Prince Rupert website, the City has relayed a Report from Fire Chief Jeff Beckwith which outlines the scope of the issue at the moment.

“Unfortunately, the shortage in ambulatory care in Prince Rupert has really come to a head. Fire Department staff are currently attending medical calls more often than fire calls, and even driving the ambulance on a weekly basis due to lack of ambulance staffing 

This takes staff away from their primary duties of fire protection, and we do not have a fulsome enough agreement in place with the Province to be supplementing the ambulance service to this extent. 

Even though we will absolutely continue to be here to respond to critical incidents, we need to ensure we always have our capacity available to respond to our primary community responsibility – fire protection.” -- Prince Rupert Fire Chief Jeff Beckwith

To highlight the situation facing the city's Firefighters who often find themselves as a backstop to the Ambulance service, the city outlined one particularly busy period this month, as well as some historical data for the last three months.

As an example, in July, firefighters attended 4 medical patients at 3 different events simultaneously. This resulted in overtime to backfill staff at the Fire Hall, which were then called out to a structure fire. 

Despite being able to respond to all events in this particular circumstance, there is not always a guarantee that staff will be available for overtime, leaving the Department and community in a vulnerable position. 

The Department’s backfilling of ambulatory care, which has been escalating over the past several years, also means that costs to the City have slowly been creeping up. 

Since April, there have been 68 incidents which created overtime due to firefighters driving ambulances and ambulance delays on scene, at significant cost to City taxpayers.

In their information update for the community, the City states that their goal is to seek an agreement to make the City whole of services rendered, while continuing to ensure that the Fire Department provides necessary support for critical medical, so the health of residents is not put at risk.

Towards the immediate issue, the City notes that they are taking steps to ensure that the Fire Department has adequate staff capacity for fire response. 

With City Council having  supported the limiting of Fire Department support to BC Ambulance, that will see Firefighters now only respond to purple level or critical calls. 

As well they have resolved to pursue an agreement that would enable the City to invoice BC Ambulance for incidents where firefighters are required to drive the BCAS Ambulance.

The City also notes that they are working closely with the Office of MLA Jennifer Rice to find solutions towards the problem, though so far, there has been no mention from the MLA's information stream, toward either the situation, or to what actions may be in motion towards a solution.

More notes on the work of Emergency Responders can be explored here.

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