If you have a headache, don’t expect lights and sirens

NEWS — Ever wondered why you see a big red fire truck at an accident, and an ambulance too?

So do some City councillors, who had different opinions at today’s council meeting about whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Chief Dale McLean answers questions.

Chief Dale McLean answers questions.

A memo from Fire Chief Dale McLean alerted council that the B.C. Ambulance Service has reduced 74 types of calls to not requiring a “lights and sirens” response.

“One of the main drivers behind this change is to ensure the safety of the travelling public while BCAS drivers are responding with lights and siren to incidents,” said McLean’s memo.

“In other words, unnecessary risk to the travelling public may result from emergency vehicles using lights and siren when they are not clinically required.”

It’s up to fire departments to decide whether they’ll do the same as ambulances, said McLean. Seventy-eight percent of municipalities are keeping the status quo.

That prompted a lively debate among council members on the issue of first responders and whether it’s even necessary that both ambulances and firefighters answer calls to accidents or medical emergencies.

Coun. Tina Lange said councillors often hear from the public that sending both is “wasting a lot of money, gas energy, only to get there and then turn around and go away.”

She said when both fire and ambulance answer a call it ties up two resources. “I certainly would like to see the first responder program cut back a bit because I think many times they’re all rushing to the same scene.”

As the city grows, so does traffic, and “if we can reduce the number of times it’s lights and sirens with a massive piece of machinery going down the street that would be a good thing.”

McLean, who attended the meeting to answer questions about his memo, said both fire and ambulance are often needed at a scene. On other occasions, ambulance crews take over from firefighters when they arrive, freeing the firefighters to respond to other calls if need be.

“Our call time is just the time it takes ambulance to get on scene.” When it comes to a timely response to injury, “How do you put a value on that?” he asked.

He said there’s minimal risk to the travelling public during lights and siren calls, but the fire department has removed them from 13 call types and left the rest as they were.

Among the types of calls that won’t be answered “hot” are fainting, breathing problems and headaches.

Coun. Pat Wallace saw things differently than Lange. “I don’t know of anybody around this table who wouldn’t want the fire department to come first, or second — if the ambulance can’t make it I know the fire department will.”

“Perhaps there’s a feeling that we in some way subsidize the ambulance service and I say. ‘Good for us.’”

McLean admitted the changes in lights-and-siren policy “has the potential to be a political hot potato.” He praised B.C. Ambulance for doing “a phenomenal job but they’re doing a lot with a little.”

Coun. Marg Spina wondered, it nothing’s broken, why fix it? “It worries me we’re fiddling with something that’s working well.”

Mayor Peter Milobar said it’s important to assure everyone that only the type of response for some calls is changing, not the responses themselves. “They are still going to respond to 100 percent of the calls they’re getting for an ambulance. There will be help coming if you call for help.”

“You’ve had a couple of hot times at the podium but we love you,” Coun. Arjun Singh assured McLean, who only recently took up his post as chief.

About Mel Rothenburger (9641 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on If you have a headache, don’t expect lights and sirens

  1. Just a thought by one of your “local” paramedics…I happen to live and be lucky enough to work here and 48 hours out of every eight days, there is a good chance, that if you need an ambulance, my partner and I will show up at your door or anywhere else you need us. I agree with the first posting above by S. McPhee, and add that on certain calls and calls we cannot arrive in a timely manner to, the fire department will be there to care for you until we get there. They assist us by stabilizing vehicles after a crash, immobilizing and supporting supected neck injuries, minor first aid, oxygen therapy to short-of-breath patients, using their AED and CPR skills when your heart stops, patient packaging and moving them to the ambulance for transport to hospital, and using their skill and tools to cut you out of a vehicle to allow a paramedic to treat your injuries. We as paramedics are the ones who transport you to the hospital. Always have and ALWAYS WILL. Each agency has a role and responsability in the care and treatment of the sick and injured, we need to work together to provide the best care possible, bottom line is when you call for help we will be there, lights and sirens or not.

  2. For every family worrying about their family member with a medical emergency, there is a family worrying about the paramedic being injured or killed while driving Code 3 (lights and sirens). Its the biggest hazard paramedics face on the job. What might feel like an emergency for the people involved, may not be an emergency at all, and it’s the right decision to for BCAS to downgrade the response for routine or non-emergency calls. And just a reminder, if you can walk, breath and are conscious, seriously ask yourself if you need an ambulance. Think first about getting one of your family members standing around worrying about you to take you to the hospital instead. Despite the myth, you will not get seen faster at the hospital if you arrive by ambulance. This also leaves more ambulances available for more immediate emergencies.

  3. No one likes to see the lights and sirens. Of course they slow you down and get in you’re way, but what if it were you calling for help? If I was having trouble breathing, I wouldn’t care who got there, but I would want them there fast. What if it were you or your family members that needed that emergency service? Would you want them sitting in traffic because they “aren’t allowed” to use lights and sirens. I know that I wouldn’t.

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