A British Columbia Ambulance Service investigation into why Castlegar lacked coverage on Christmas Day has local paramedics reminding the public that dialing 911 will still send for help.
A scheduling blip resulted in no Castlegar car on duty from 1 a.m. Dec. 25 until 11 p.m. that night.
“I want to assure the public that no matter what – if we get busy or there are challenges – an ambulance will show up so please continue to call 911,” said BCAS Central Kootenay Superintendent Chris Mason.
“The first responder program compliments the BC Ambulance Service (BCAS) – it’s not there instead of.”
Castlegar firefighters responded to first responder calls during that period but without the ability to transport patients, members had to wait in some cases for ambulance personnel from Nelson to arrive.
“It’s a bit of a surprise there wouldn’t be coverage out there,” said Larry Standen, acting unit chief in Trail. “Though having said that, there are other ambulances in the area.”
The provincial service is not bound by municipal borders and often pulls vehicles from neighbouring communities to meet coverage requirements. Though low availability levels in Castlegar were recognized during the holidays, the incident managed to slip through the cracks.
“We knew in advance that we were going to have challenges in Castlegar so we put in place a contingency plan to cross cover Castlegar in the event that we had no coverage,” explained Mason. “We identified the shortfalls, we were going to cross cover but for whatever reason on Christmas Day, an ambulance was not moved into the community of Castlegar.”
An internal investigation into what occurred, including the lack of fair warning to fire rescue, is underway with no definite deadline for completion. Though he wouldn’t attribute the coverage gap to lack of paramedics to pull from, Mason did say it’s difficult to recruit professionals to the area.
“The challenges we have in rural, remote British Columbia are similar to what other communities are having for jobs,” he said. “We don’t have the industrial base we once had through the area, which is where we used to draw most of our ambulance attendants from.”
It’s also difficult to attract people to the job, which relies heavily on part-timers.
Six of Trail’s 24 staff members are full-time, meaning they don’t get to dictate their availability, while Castlegar operates with only one full-time member and 20 part-timers.
On call members, carrying a page, are paid $2 an hour and then when called out are paid a “regular” rate of pay for at least four hours.
“Foxtrot” individuals are paid $11.21 just to be at the station awaiting a call, in which case their wage would go up depending on their training level.