The City of Lethbridge operates a fully integrated Fire and EMS Service. This means fire fighters and paramedics are dually trained to do both jobs and we can locally dispatch fire, EMS and police resources as needed. All of the different pieces of this system work together to provide the most efficient and effective service to our community. The City of Lethbridge is focused on all areas of emergency services with a local lens.
Tell your story! Do you have a story of the excellent care you received from local fire and EMS services? Are you concerned about the proposed changes to EMS dispatch? If so, please share that with our provincial government officials.
On August 4, 2020, Alberta Health Services announced that it will discontinue its contract with the City of Lethbridge to provide EMS dispatch, essentially taking a cog out of the wheel of the local integrated service model. We believe this will create significant hurdles, inefficiencies and potential negative outcomes for our community.
Hurdles with new system
Medical 1st response. Currently, local dispatch can decide which resource is closest and available (Fire or EMS) in a medical emergency. In 2019, a Fire crew was the first on the scene to a medical or motor vehicle incident 881 times which equates to 19%. When seconds can be the difference between life and death, this response is critical. With the loss of EMS dispatch, we will no longer be able to coordinate the medical 1st response because all EMS calls will automatically go to Alberta Health Services.
Situational awareness. Understanding where resources are and what can be accessed is a key part of our integrated services and an important element in any emergency response. When we lose the ability to track our staff and resources, we lose situational awareness. Having Platoon Chiefs coordinate all aspects of emergency services in Lethbridge, helps make the best use of the resources we have.
EMS Support to Fires. When a fire event happens, local dispatch can send a Lethbridge ambulance. These staff are trained fire fighters and can aid in fire suppression when they arrive on scene.
Strain on Fire resources. If AHS dispatch sends our EMS resource to another community, they also remove that fire support from Lethbridge. Through AHS dispatch, an ambulance could be sent from a nearby community but this individual would not be dually trained to do fire suppression like a Lethbridge EMS crew would be.
Cost. There will be a need to hire additional fire fighters to make up for the lack of support from EMS teams. This is estimated to cost the City over $5 million/year. The City would also requires additional resources estimated at $750,000 annually for the Public Safety Communications Centre (PSCC) after EMS dispatch is removed. These positions would be required to mitigate the safety risks when technology fails and insure we can still dispatch fire resources to medical emergencies when needed. These two items together will mean a $4.85 mill/year cost to Lethbridge tax payers.
Although AHS has said there will be an overall saving for them, there will be a large burden put on the Lethbridge tax payers should this initiative move forward.
Twist and Shout.
No amount of technology can replace the importance of in-person communication. Having an integrated local dispatch means staff can "twist" their chair around and "shout" at their
co-worker when they need support. Technology fails and having in-person communication is vital to getting the right resources to an emergency.
Data. The provincial control of EMS data makes it difficult to find efficiencies, identify issues and make improvements. The City has traditionally had a difficult time getting Lethbridge relevant EMS data and this is anticipated to be more challenging moving forward.
EMS resource leaving our community. We are already seeing a lot of EMS transfers happening which means ambulances leave Lethbridge to spend many hours on the road and waiting in larger centres - unavailable to respond to local emergencies. With AHS dispatch we expect this will happen more often and in the case of Lethbridge's dually trained staff, that means both a fire and an EMS resource has left our community.