Winlaw BC Ambulance Station

UPDATED: Winlaw looking for ambulance attendants

Slocan Valley residents have been without proper ambulance service since January.

It was during a trauma course that Winlaw fire department assistant chief Stephanie Whitney saw the urgency to hire paramedics for the local ambulance station.

Since January, Slocan Valley residents have been without an ambulance, as the station in Winlaw has been without employees, said Whitney.

“We would like residents to be aware that BC Ambulance is hiring, and if we don’t get some candidates, our residents will have to wait for ambulance care from Nelson or Castlegar, which is at least a 25 minute wait,” said Whitney. “It’s important for the ambulance to be local.”

The rural BC ambulance station was reduced to two part-time employees in January when a third member moved to New Denver. Whitney works part-time as a driver and Ruth Peirson is the only paramedic. Both women work full-time elsewhere.

When they took a trauma course alongside the Passmore fire department, Whitney and Peirson realized the urgency of hiring more paramedics.

As first responders, the volunteer Passmore crew has been helping out but Whitney said the added workload is a strain. “They can stabilize patients but not transport them,” she added. “They are getting called more now and it’s taking its toll. They’re getting burnt out.”

She said working as a paramedic is a rewarding job.

“Knowing you’re a giant help to your community is one of the appeals,” said Whitney.

She explained rural stations aren’t manned like in larger communities where employees put in their whole shift at the station.

“You don’t have to be at the station all day,” she said. “Employees carry a pager.”

Working as a paramedic can also be challenging.

“It can be a stressful job with trauma victims and messy stuff. Nobody calls the ambulance when they are having a good day.”

Whitney said there is enough work for six part-time attendants.

“You could work as much as you wanted or as little as four times per month,” she said.

BC Ambulance Service applicants must be 19 or older, pass a medical, have a driver’s license and once hired, they will train employees for the entry level position of emergency medical responder. Whitney said if there are six employees, it’s likely a trainer will be brought in for the intensive two-week course. Otherwise new recruits will travel to one of the three training locations in Creston, Cranbrook or Kelowna. Either way, after two weeks, they will be certified emergency medical responders, and will receive ongoing training.

BC Ambulance Service comments

Jason Twells, BC Ambulance superintendent for the East Kootenays said in 2013/14 the Winlaw station responded to 33 calls that required a “lights and siren response” and completed seven transfers.

“The station is working with neighbouring stations and community partners to provide the necessary coverage,” he said, adding employee shortages are common in rural BC communities.

Twells said BCEHS’ new senior leadership team, put in place in April 2014, has a mandate to improve ambulance service levels province-wide, focusing on remote and rural communities.

He said BCEHS has established a working group on Haida Gwaii that includes local paramedics, local health care providers, and representatives from Northern Health, the Ambulance Paramedics of BC Union, and community leaders to propose solutions to improve ambulance services in the area.  Recommendations from this group will inform a review of rural and remote staffing models across B.C.

In August 2014 the BC Emergency Health Services talent and acquisition team initiated a targeted recruitment strategy in Winlaw, New Denver, Nakusp and Kaslo to provide consistent paramedic coverage.

The recruitment strategies in the area includes community information sessions, working with the fire department to identify potential candidates, meeting with the mayor and council to develop incentive strategies, meeting with local employers to encourage people to join BCEHS.

For more information, visit bcas.ca/careers.

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