COLUMN: Add more paramedics

It is unfortunate it took a tragic death to prompt changes in how ambulances are dispatched.

The issue of ambulance response times in Surrey has once again been pushed to the forefront, largely thanks to the persistence of a reporter.

It came up in connection with the tragic death of Dario Bartoli, 15, after an apparent swarming on Dec. 14, 2014 at 154 Street and 18 Avenue in South Surrey. Janet Brown, a longtime CKNW reporter who lives in Surrey, heard shortly after the death that Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis had written a letter to the ambulance service about its response time.

She asked the City of Surrey for a copy of the letter. It sent back a copy with almost everything blanked out. She appealed the city’s decision to not release the contents of the letter to the provincial freedom of information office, which after a series of delays finally released most of the letter to her.

Garis’ letter, written in January 2015, stated that Surrey RCMP called the B.C. Ambulance Service (BCAS) for assistance after they were alerted to the incident. Bartoli managed to stagger from the area to a nearby home, and police were called at that time.

Garis noted in the letter that the police were on hold for three minutes after calling the ambulance service. A second call was made shortly afterwards to confirm an ambulance was on the way. Due to the lack of response, Surrey’s fire department was then called. It apparently did not respond to the initial call, likely because the 911 call had been routed to Surrey RCMP.

Brown has still not been able to find out just how long it took for the ambulance to arrive. That portion of the letter has been blanked out by the provincial FOI office. Nonetheless, an ambulance finally did arrive. Paramedics spent 13 minutes stabilizing Bartoli before transporting him to Peace Arch Hospital, which is about two blocks away from the scene of the swarming.

The teenager died several hours later.

Linda Lupini, executive vice-president of the Provincial Health Services Authority which oversees the ambulance service, admitted the response was not good. She said the BCAS could have done better and said the it has since changed its processes. The service has also added three ambulances in Surrey since Bartoli’s death.

Garis’ letter also makes the point there is inconsistency when citizens are requesting ambulance service, despite the fact there is a longstanding first responder agreement in place between the fire department and the ambulance service.

“Changes in the past (to the agreement) have been communicated prior to implementation and both parties work together to ensure the timely response of first responders as well as paramedics to citizen needs,” the letter stated.

Fire chiefs across the Lower Mainland have been concerned about arbitrary changes to how ambulances respond to calls and his letter builds on that concern.

It’s good the BCAS has added more ambulances to Surrey, as the demand is growing substantially. Between 2014 and 2015, calls for service jumped from 48,000 to 52,000.

However, it is unfortunate it took a tragic death to prompt changes in how ambulances are dispatched and questions remain about how ambulances are dispatched. The fire department does an excellent job as first responders, but in many cases, paramedics are required on the scene quickly. In a city that is growing as fast as Surrey, there needs to be considerably more paramedics than there are today – and there needs to be a plan to add paramedics and ambulances on a regular basis.

Frank Bucholtz writes weekly for The Leader.




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