B.C. Ambulance responds to Christmas shortage

B.C. Ambulance Service has responded to questions from the Castlegar News about having no ambulances on Christmas in the area.

In the Jan. 5 issue of the Castlegar News, it was reported that councillor Russ Hearne had put forward a motion, which was successful, to charge B.C. Ambulance Service (BCAS) for the expenses incurred by the Castlegar Fire Department for filling in as first responders for five emergency calls during Christmas when no ambulances were available in Castlegar.

BCAS responded to questions after the Castlegar News’ deadline for the Jan. 5 paper but the responses are being published now.

When asked about the lack of ambulance service on Dec. 24 and25, BCAS manager of communications and media Kelsie Carwithen said:

“BCAS is committed to delivering timely and high quality care to patients regardless of location. In order to achieve this, BCAS allocates resources based on call volume. We acknowledge the concerns expressed by the community of Castlegar regarding service provision on December 24 and 25; however, what I can tell you is that this is not the norm for BCAS.”

Carwithen explained that ambulance cross-coverage is implemented between communities to ensure seamless service.

“Because we are a provincial service, ambulances are not impeded by municipal boundaries and resources can be shifted when required,” she said. “BCAS is investigating the specific concerns put forth by the community of Castlegar and will work to continuously improve our cross-coverage practice on a community basis to achieve a reasonable and consistent use of resources.”

Carwithen said that BCAS works closely with municipal first responders (like the fire department) to enhance emergency pre-hospital patient care across BC.

“BCAS values the role first responders play in pre-hospital care and continues to make strides towards improving communication and procedures in the best interest of patients. I can assure you that every effort will be made to improve communication channels to ensure first responders are informed if an ambulance is not available.”

When asked what BCAS is doing to address the staffing shortage in Castlegar, Carwithen said: “Recruiting and retaining skilled workers in rural and remote communities is a challenge that all employers and sectors, including those in the health care, face. Our challenge isn’t unique.

“BCAS has implemented a strong and ongoing recruitment program aimed at smaller communities. We are constantly working to identify and encourage local people – people who live in their communities and take pride in providing service to their communities – to consider joining BCAS.

I would encourage anyone looking to seek more information about opportunities with BCAS in Castlegar to contact the BCAS Human Resources Department.”

Carwithen said that BCAS is working on further integration with the health sector.

“This may be one avenue of attracting more community members to paramedic work and is something BCAS is exploring at both the provincial and regional levels. The idea is that paramedics in rural and remote areas have health care skills and these could be applied in health care facilities to provide more and varied working experiences for paramedics.”

Castlegar fire chief Jerry Rempel said it wasn’t only Castlegar that was affected but the whole surrounding area.

The Castlegar Fire Department responded to five calls on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In each case, the ambulance was brought in from out of the town.

“We were dispatched through the ambulance service in Kamloops,” said Rempel. “The same time they called us to give initial treatment, they would send an ambulance from another station. The ambulances came from either Nelson, Trail, and Rossland, I believe.”

Rempel said the fire department is sometimes called anyway to provide service if the ambulance service thinks they can get to the scene before the ambulance’s arrival or if they need extra help.

“It’s not unusual,” he said. “It’s just the fact that we were there for a little longer than normal at the scene waiting for an ambulance.”

Firefighters are trained in first aid, but not to the level of ambulance attendants, he said.

“We have an agreement with them (BCAS) to do first responder medical calls,” said Rempel. “The ambulance, of course, has a higher level of training than us and they have more equipment with them.”


Rempel said four of the five people attended to over Christmas were eventually taken to hospital. He doesn’t know how they fared once they arrive there, but acknowledges that the potential for a life-threatening disaster caused by the delay is there.