Changes to protocol have led to slower ambulance response times, says Sooke’s fire chief.
The B.C. Ambulance Service changed its resource allocation plan, downgrading the response to 74 medical situations from Code 3 to Code 2. Instead of an ambulance being dispatched with lights and sirens, they’re treated as a routine.
“There’s logic behind it, but it falls short in rural areas,” said Sooke Fire Chief Steve Sorensen.
Sooke was once considered a rural station with two stations and one full-time unit chief. Other paramedics were part-time and available by pager.
With the reallocation, Sooke became part of the Greater Victoria cache of ambulance. Now Sooke is just one station that responds to incidents throughout the region, based on availability.
The result? Ambulances are taking time to respond and more pressure is being applied to Sooke Fire Rescue firefighters, who respond to medical emergencies when ambulances aren’t available.
Recently, Sooke firefighters waited more than 50 minutes at a medical call for an ambulance to arrive, and of 54 first responder calls firefighters answered this year, ambulance paramedics took more than 10 minutes to arrive, Sorensen said.
Peter Thorpe, executive director of metro operations for B.C. Ambulance Service, said calls and response times have increased in Sooke over the last three years from 1,012 calls to 1,252 in 2014-15. It takes an ambulance, on average, nine minutes and 15 seconds to respond on a Code 3 call and 12:14 on Code 2.
“I have great empathy for your [fire department]. At the end of the day they do arrive on the scene first, and on some occasions wait a period of time for an [ambulance] to come,” Thorpe said.
The Sooke ambulance station responds to about 2,500 calls a year in the Greater Sooke area. Sooke Fire Rescue answers 1,000 calls and about 45 percent of those are for medical emergencies.
Fire departments aren’t required to respond as first responders by provincial legislation and don’t receive any money from the province to attend the calls.
“It’s a great program in that you’re getting the closest available trained resources as fast as possible when an ambulance isn’t available,” Sorensen said.
“We don’t mind going on the calls, but when we have to wait 20 minutes for ambulance to get there that’s taking us out of service that much longer.”
There may be relief in sight.
The B.C. Ambulance Service is undergoing a deployment and demand review with the metro operations which will include the Lower Mainland and Greater Victoria.
The review, which is expected to be released next month, is to improve patient care and how to better deploy resources. Fire services across the region are being asked for input.
“We do value [the fire service] and we want to make that relationship better,” Thorpe said.