Shorter response times but longer time spent at calls: Port Coquitlam chief

The number of calls Port Coquitlam Fire and Emergency Services receives each year has stayed in lockstep with the city
The number of calls Port Coquitlam Fire and Emergency Services receives each year has stayed in lockstep with the city's population.
— image credit: TRI-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO

The number of calls Port Coquitlam Fire and Emergency Services receives each year has stayed in lockstep with the city’s population.

But the length of time crews are spending at those calls has soared in the last year, said PoCo Fire Chief Nick Delmonico.

He said the issue has resulted from a change in how the BC Ambulance Service prioritizes its calls, forcing firefighters to spend more time waiting for paramedics to show up to take victims to the hospital.

“They have changed their response protocols so they are able to get to what they believe are the more serious calls at the expense of lower or mid-range calls,” Delmonico said. “We have had calls as long as two hours where fire crews are waiting for an ambulance.”

Delmonico also questions the ambulance service’s definition of a priority call. He said his crews recently waited 45 minutes at a scene where an amputation was necessary.

A less serious call where the victim is not in danger of dying may require a quick ambulance response all the same, he added.

“There is an expectation that granny shouldn’t lay there for an hour with a broken hip,” Delmonico said. “If BC Ambulance say they aren’t going to go because [the patient] isn’t going to die, that is their call. We just don’t think it’s appropriate.”

The concerns over provincial government downloading were outlined by the department in a mid-year business report to PoCo council, which was received by the finance and intergovernmental committee last week.

The report also found that firefighters had improved response times by 14 seconds so far this year over the adjusted 2013 figures. Delmonico noted that the improvement is part of a downward trend over the last four years that he credits to better equipment usage.

The purchase of a medical truck has made it possible for firefighters to deploy more quickly and get to scenes where the larger fire trucks may not be required, he said.

In total, the department expects to attend 1,434 calls this year, a projection based on the first six months of 2014. That total is down slightly from 2013 (1,455) and up from 2012 (1,352) and 2011 (1,238).

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