Skip to content

Okotoks collecting data amid concerns over ambulance response times

Okotoks is now keeping track of the time spent by fire services waiting for EMS on medical response calls. The first report was presented July 18.
Okotoks Fire truck
Okotoks is now keeping track of the time spent by fire services waiting for EMS on medical response calls. The first report was presented during the July 18 council meeting. File photo - Brent Calver/Western Wheel

The Town of Okotoks is collecting monthly data on response times to medical emergencies given an ever-challenging ambulance situation throughout the province. 

A report presented to council July 18 shows the Okotoks Fire Department arrived ahead of Alberta Health Services emergency medical personnel 45 per cent of the time on calls where both services were dispatched in June. 

Documents show the average response time for EMS over the last month was 15 minutes 29 seconds while the average fire response time was eight minutes 13 seconds.

"That's a problem," CAO Elaine Vincent said July 18. 

Of the 25 calls where fire services arrived ahead of EMS, crews waited an average of seven minutes 16 seconds. 

Acting chief administrative officer Jeff Greene said on July 25 the data is being collected and presented to council to keep politicians updated on the ambulance situation in Okotoks. 

"It's recognizing that the challenges with EMS are starting to have an impact on the services that the Town delivers," he said. 

Greene added the information is useful for Okotoks to have on hand, especially when it comes to advocacy at the provincial level. He said the Town needs to "be able to demonstrate that it's an ongoing challenge and it needs to be addressed."

Mayor Tanya Thorn has previously expressed her desire to see the Province compensate municipalities for the increased fire services level needed to fill the gap in EMS coverage. 

The acting CAO said that while he can't speak to the intent of Thorn or council, it is clear that changes need to be made to address the problem, whether that be compensation or addressing the system which is causing lagging service throughout Alberta. 

"I think it tells the story that response times are increasingly challenged," Greene said of the June report. "Fire is on site relatively quickly but by the time EMS is there, there's some significant delay.

"I think it just speaks to the service gap that seems to be growing."

During the July 18 meeting, Coun. Rachel Swendseid inquired what dispatch and response times would look like if everything was running smoothly. 

Community services manager Susan Laurin, who presented the report on behalf of fire Chief Trevor Brice, explained that firefighters always respond to Delta and Echo calls, which are deemed life-threatening. Presently, they are responding to all medical calls, regardless of an Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta or Echo designation. 

Fire services would also have to wait less time for EMS to arrive if the system was functioning properly, she said. 

There were two instances where fire waited on scene for EMS more than 10 minutes in June — one Bravo call and one Delta call. There was also an Alpha and a Delta call at more than 15 minutes and three Delta calls where the wait was more than 20 minutes. 

Over the last month, there were three calls to which EMS took longer than 30 minutes to respond. One of those was a lower-level Alpha call and two were Delta calls. 

Swenseid said Okotoks is lucky to have firefighters with medical training.

According to the Town, firefighters are certified through the Alberta College of Paramedics to a minimum of emergency medical responder (EMR). Several firefighters are also certified as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and/or paramedics (PCP).

Firefighters also attend weekly training sessions to maintain fire fighting and medical skills and are tested annually to ensure they continue to meet the department's standards, the Town said. 

"If you look at these times, sometimes they’re waiting there for 30 minutes for an ambulance," said Swendseid. "We are so lucky.

"There’s no question in my mind, there would have been lives lost if we didn’t have that training in our firefighters." 

AHS hasn't provided responses to written questions posed by the Western Wheel.

Lauryn Heintz

About the Author: Lauryn Heintz

Read more