Fire Fighting in Canada

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Comment: A worst kind of wait

July 19, 2022  By Laura Aiken


Canada’s healthcare system is struggling, and some regions are reporting significant issues with ambulances  waiting at the hospital unable to “offload” their patients to the short staffed and highly taxed hospitals. This was a problem before the pandemic, and a bigger problem during and after. Between Jan. 1 and May 25, there were 526 instances where Ottawa had no available ambulances to respond, sources told CBC News. There were 45 of these “level zero” cases during the same period last year. In early January, Ontario’s Durham region went an hour in “code zero” (no available ambulances), a situation that would typically be more like two minutes, reported Durham’s paramedic chief to news outlets. 

Joe Triff, vice-president of the Halifax Professional Fire Fighters Association, told CTV News its typical for firefighter crews to be waiting for ambulances during medical calls and MVIs, which ties the crew for responding to another call. In May, the Nova Scotia government introduced the Direct to Triage policy that allowed paramedics to leave low-risk patients in the waiting room for further assessment.  

In Manitoba in June, Winnipeg Fire-Paramedic Chief Christian Schmidt told city council that response times have increased over the years to approaching 15 minutes, which is nine minutes longer than the six-minute target for life threatening emergencies. This was attributed to staff shortages and a lack of physical ambulances. 

Late June in Calgary, firefighters needed to transport a toddler to the hospital via fire truck. Fire Chief Steve Dongworth noted that was “not the purpose” of fire trucks. 

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An April article in Macleans, “Canadian paramedics are in crisis” by Christina Frangou, noted that the number of 911 calls have been rising for at least a decade. She wrote: “In the past 12 months, cities all over Canada have reported code reds, meaning there are no ambulances or paramedics available to help. Toronto called one in January, and Waterloo, Ontario, called 11 in December alone. Between August 1 and December 6, 2021, Calgary and Edmonton were issuing red alerts every 90 minutes. Nova Scotia’s Standing Committee on Health heard the same story.”

On July 2, CTV News published a round-up of some emergency rooms shutting down entirely, with the chief reason cited as staff shortages. 

All of this frankly troubling news means some fire departments are feeling the strain of being on scene longer with limited tools at their disposal. The conversation on pre-hospital care and the fire first responder is a critical one. There is no quick fix or easy solution for the problem of offload delays or staff shortage. Nothing can be solved without communication, and let’s hope the right people in high places are talking — a lot. •


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