Failed earthquake exercise sparks first-responder plan

DELTA – Delta firefighters will be able to respond to a greater range of medical emergency calls if the Provincial Health Services Authority Board signs a special agreement later this month.

It’s part of Delta’s response to an earthquake preparedness exercise this past April that revealed dire results.

George Harvie, Delta’s chief administration officer, said the “table top” exercise was for a “sizeable” earthquake – 7.3 on the Richter scale.

“We shut it down because we failed,” he said. “And we failed because our resources weren’t able to attend to all the calls that were coming in for assistance. The ambulance wasn’t available, the hospital was full, the tunnel was out.”

The municipal government is consequently trying to address gaps in training.

“We realized we would be significantly on our own,” Harvie said. “Every city will be on their own in a sizeable earthquake.

“That’s why the mayor said we need to push this through, we’ve got to get this done. For us to ignore that, that table-top exercise, designed to show you where your gaps are, it would not be the right thing to do.

“Even our engineering staff are receiving more training,” he said.

The three-year pilot project for Delta’s firefighters, unanimously endorsed by Delta council in September, is set to go before the health services board in three weeks.

The project would see Delta’s firefighters trained in and authorized to provide a level of medical help they are currently prohibited from doing.

“Having our entire fire-fighting force upgraded, up-trained, for in the event of an earthquake is a huge advantage,” Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said.

The idea is for the firefighters, as first responders, to be dispatched to, and tackle more, medical tasks until an ambulance crew arrives to take over.

It’s an idea that’s been considered since at least 2006, but gained momentum after the mock earthquake preparedness exercise.

It takes into account that Delta has six fire halls but only two ambulance stations – one in North Delta and the other in Ladner.

“The ambulance will still get called, it’s just that we want to be there first, recognizing that there’s two ambulance stations,” Harvie explained. “So we’re there to assist at the scene until the ambulance shows up.”

He said Delta’s firefighters would not be transporting patients.

Nor is the project aimed at replacing ambulance personnel, but rather, aims to help them.

Jackson agreed. “I’m not complaining about ambulance, they’ve got their hands full, but we’re a growing area and traffic is terrible as you know, getting around anywhere, so we’re just going to try to provide a better service at no extra cost,” Jackson said.

“We’re not trying to take their jobs, we’re trying to get to people on the ground who need some help.

“You don’t care who shows up, as long as somebody’s there, and we get there first because we’re closer, and prepare for ambulance to arrive, and then they can compare notes,” Jackson added. “The people pay good

money to be looked after, and we’re going to honour that.”

Delta Fire Chief Dan Copeland said he expects the program to roll out in the middle of December, if approved.

By year’s end, nearly 70 per cent of Delta’s firefighters would be trained to the new emergency medical responder level.

Harvie said the pilot project won’t cost Delta any extra money because the training is already budgeted for.

“This doesn’t cost us anything,” he said. Copeland said the agreement would see firefighters trained to do triage at a scene and monitor patients prior to ambulance arrival.

The agreement would enable Delta firefighters to insert and maintain a nasopharyngeal airway, assess blood pressure by auscultation, use a pulse oximeter, monitor and treat blood glucose levels, administer specific medications, set up a splint for a fracture and assist in childbirth.

“A lot of this stuff is just augmenting what we did before,” Copeland said.

As a result, Jackson said she thinks Delta is “going to probably” have the highest trained firefighters “anywhere that I know of in Canada.”

If the agreement gets the go-ahead, Harvie said, E-Comm – the emergency dispatch service for Metro Vancouver – will activate its automatic dispatch accordingly.

“Unless we’re dispatched we don’t get there, then you have the person that’s sitting concussed on the soccer field, slips and falls on sidewalks, a number of situations, they’re complaining why isn’t the fire department there?” Harvie said.

“In fact, we’ve had people run to the fire hall and ask, ‘Why aren’t you guys coming?'” tzytaruk@thenownewspaper.com

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