Gabriola fire chief calling for full-time staff at local BC Ambulance station


The Gabriola Fire Department responded to two medical calls this weekend where a firefighter had to drive an ambulance due to a lack of BC Ambulance Service (BCAS) staff.

“We’re getting to the point where the service is getting off-loaded on our community and especially our first responders, and we feel it’s time now that if BC Ambulance isn’t aware of it that they need to step up,” Gabriola Island fire chief Will Sprogis told CHEK News.

Sprogis is calling for the local ambulance station to be staffed full-time, 24/7.

The current model has the station staffed with paramedics between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily, but if there is a callout between midnight and 8 a.m., they can’t work the next day’s shift. That means sometimes, on-call paramedics are paged out, but only one person shows up.

“We feel that if we get called out to a fire, and we’re trying to provide fire suppression operations for the Island, potentially a patient is going to die because we’re not there to drive the ambulance,” Sprogis added.

The fire chief says 10 of his firefighters have upgraded their driving licenses on their own time and expense so they can drive an ambulance if needed.

Training officer Kitt Stringer is one of them.

“Our only choice is to drive the ambulance and help them out,” Stringer said. “Otherwise, we’re tying up frontline firefighters waiting at that call, potentially for hours until more resources from [BC Ambulance] can come.”

Troy Clifford, provincial president of the Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of BC CUPE Local 873, calls the situation “absolutely not appropriate.”

“First responders and local volunteer firefighters are really there for first response, rescue, that sort of stuff. We believe that Gabriola is one of those communities that should be a full-time, 24-hour ambulance,” Clifford said.

BC Emergency Health Services provided this statement after the story aired Monday.

“BCEHS greatly appreciates our relationships with firefighters and the role they can play in our emergency response to patients prior to paramedics arriving on scene. BCEHS has agreements with many fire departments throughout the province. Firefighter first responders can provide basic first aid and emergency health services, such as CPR and defibrillation while paramedics are on route to a medical emergency call. The program is voluntary and each First Responder partner agency determines which types of medical emergencies they are able to respond to and when. Generally, BCEHS notifies firefighter first responders of all time-critical calls, where minutes and even seconds count – these are known as Red and Purple calls. BCEHS also notifies firefighter first responders of some less urgent calls, known as Orange and Yellow calls, depending on the circumstances. BCEHS also notifies fire departments of any calls that require their technical expertise and equipment. This includes all motor vehicle incidents and hazmat scenes, or potential drownings.

On Gabriola, BCEHS has also asked for the assistance of Firefighter First Responders to act as drivers at times, and we greatly appreciate their assistance. Since January 1, 2022, the Gabriola Fire Department has driven an ambulance for BCEHS 17 times. BCEHS has been rolling out important changes to paramedic staffing model across the province, including on Gabriola Island. We are working to address a historical reliance on on-call staffing by introducing hundreds of full time and part time permanent positions, including four new, permanent paramedic positions on Gabriola Island, bringing the total permanent positions at the Gabriola station to six. BCEHS also added a second ambulance on Gabriola Island in November 2021. BCEHS is constantly reviewing staffing across the province to ensure the right staffing model is being used in all areas of the province, including on Gabriola.”

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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