In response to the escalating toxic drug crisis and a surge in 911 calls, Nanaimo City Council wants to ask the province to pay up for firefighters who are dispatched to health calls like overdoses or people in crisis.
The motion was put forward at Monday’s council meeting by Coun. Sheryl Armstrong, a former RCMP officer who served for 35 years on the force.
Armstrong said she pooled fire calls for a random day in April and found that 22 out of 30 calls were for medical aid. Even that day, she said, 29 out of 43 calls were also for medical aid.
“I’m concerned that first of all ambulances aren’t getting the services they need because they do need more paramedics, and I believe that the province is relying upon our fire departments,” she said while tabling the motion.
The motion also asks for the report to include options for charging for costs associated with wear-and-tear on fire trucks and other equipment when sending a bill to the province.
Mayor Leonard Krog acknowledges that the provincial government may not agree to the request but emphasizes that the motion reflects mounting frustration over the strain on local resources.
“The motion asks for the fire chief basically to prepare a report for council, expressed around the issue of expense the city incurs by sending fire to what are often health-related calls, as opposed to fighting a fire or something of that nature,” Krog told CHEK News Tuesday.
Regarding B.C.’s public health crisis of toxic drug deaths, Krog praised firefighters’ life-saving efforts when dispatched to overdose calls, while also highlighting the debate over financial responsibility.
“There’s a certain frustration among the citizens who should be paying for this. Should it be city taxpayers and citizens, or should it be the province?” he asked.
Krog hopes that the fire chief’s report will provide valuable information, even if it doesn’t ultimately sway the province.
“I candidly do not expect this to sway the province, but I think it will help draw attention to the whole issue of street disorder, mental health addiction, brain injury, and trauma crisis that I continue to talk about, which is so negatively impacting not just the people in the street but everyone else around them,” he said.
Council passed the motion to have Nanaimo Fire Chief Tim Doyle prepare the report in a near-unanimous vote, with Coun. Tyler Brown the lone dissenter.