Success in Lethbridge
By Laura King
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
A big story out of Lethbridge, Alta. After considerable lobbying by residents (and, no doubt, the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association and Lethbridge Fire Chief Brian Cornforth), the province has frozen plans to centralize ambulance dispatch operations to Calgary and Edmonton. In addition, Lethbridge firefighters will continue to provide paramedic service.
Lethbridge is one
of a handful of fire-based EMS
services in Canada. I
spent a fabulous day in Lethbridge in June
2008 in the company of Chief Cornforth, Deputy Chief Mike Ross, Platoon Chief
Bill Mellafont and firefighter/paramedics Scott
Lane and Randy Crow learning about
the fire-EMS model, which Lethbridge has
used since 1912. There was talk that day about the province’s plans to make
changes despite Lethbridge’s
clearly efficient and effective model of fire and EMS
response. Here’s part of our July 2009 story in Canadian Firefighter and EMS Quarterly:
On April 1, 2009, the province took over ambulance delivery and
service. Lethbridge’s firefighter union was worried that the
change would result in the breakup of the dual-service department and lead to
reduced response capabilities.
"Fire-based medical response is considered the gold standard across North
America, with the best response times and the best patient outcomes,” Rob
Chollak, president of the Lethbridge Fire Fighter-Paramedics Association, IAFF
Local 237, said on the union website. "It's the model that other cities
envy. So to risk breaking it up, and losing a system that's served the city
well for almost 100 years doesn't make any sense.”
Health had suggested that ambulance personnel, who are fully trained
firefighters, would not be used for any duties except EMS and healthcare, a
restriction the union says would limit resources available to the fire
department in the event of major fire calls or simultaneous calls.
As the Lethbridge
Herald reported yesterday, Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky said rural Albertans
contacted him with their safety concerns.
The freeze applies
to previous plans to separate emergency medical services from fire departments
in Lethbridge and other communities.
"Last week I
immediately contacted Alberta Health Services and I said we’ll put a stop to
everything for the time being,” Zwozdesky said.
The Herald says that
means 18 ambulance dispatch centres — including Lethbridge and Medicine Hat – will remain open indefinitely and some of the 17 already closed could reopen.
In Lethbridge, ambulance dispatch operations remain combined with emergency
police and fire calls.
Lethbridge emergency response office was scheduled to hand over control of ambulance
dispatch next month, on April 27. It wasn’t broke and it didn’t need fixing.
It’s March. St. Patrick’s Day,
in fact. Which usually means green beer and grim weather. But as the sun shines
here in southern Ontario with a
promised high of 16 C, it’s interesting to note two news stories that were
posted on our website this week – one from the Halifax Chronicle Herald from
last Friday, “Nova Scotia grass fire season starts early " and one from yesterday’s Daily
Gleaner in Fredericton,
“Grass fires keep department busy ”.
firefighters – who responded to five grass fires in recent days – planned to
set up patrols to watch for brush fires as the early spring thaw means an
earlier than usual start to the grass-fire season.
That said, Eastern Ontario Model Forest
general manager Mark Richardson told the Kingston Whig-Standard yesterday that
it takes a lot more than an easy winter and a few nice weeks just before spring
to spark forest fires. Others warn that a lack of rain could return forest fire
levels to normal in Ontario after
two years with fewer than average fires.