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Sooke Fire Rescue sounds alarm over rising medical calls

In 2022, over 50% of the 1,090 calls the fire department responded to were medical emergencies
More than 50 per cent of the calls the Sooke Fire Rescue Service responded to in 2022 were medical calls in support of the B.C. ambulance service. (File - Sooke News Mirror)

Sooke Fire Rescue is concerned about the rising number of emergency medical calls to support the B.C. ambulance service and the increasing cost to the municipality.

“We need to examine it closely and understand its impact on our service and costs.” said Fire Chief Ted Ruiter.

District staff is expected to discuss the issue further with council at a future meeting.

In 2022, more than 50 per cent of the 1,090 calls the fire department responded to were medical emergencies. Between Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, the fire department responded to 562 medical calls, compared to 417 in 2022 during the same period.

Sooke Fire Rescue, like many other fire departments, provides a range of emergency services, including responding to various types of incidents such as fires, medical emergencies, hazardous materials incidents, technical rescues, and more. They do not respond exclusively to life-threatening medical calls.

“I’ve been wondering for many years why our fire service was doing all this ambulance work without (the district) getting any renumeration from the province,” said councillor Tony St-Pierre at a council meeting last week.

The B.C Emergency Health Services dispatches fire department first responders to 911 medical emergency calls classified as immediately life-threatening, time-critical, or urgent serious calls. Firefighters provide primary life-saving interventions until paramedics arrive.

Sooke is not the only municipality that’s concerned with increased emergency calls.

Prince George council plans to present a motion at this week’s Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention in Vancouver. The motion asks the province to develop a funding model to compensate local governments who provide emergency medical services through their fire and rescue services.

Sooke Mayor Maja Tait said the medical call issue has been the subject of two recent UBCM reports.

Since its incorporation in 1999, the population of Sooke has increased by more than 70 percent, yet the number of ambulances stationed in Sooke has remained unchanged.

“The fire department is very busy and though we have accepted a provincial responsibility but the only other option is to leave our residents with nothing,” Tait said. “It’s a lot for local government to bear.”

The Sooke Fire Rescue Service has an annual operating budget of $2.3 million.

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Kevin Laird

About the Author: Kevin Laird

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