Fire chief rebuked by council over first responder decision

Medical calls increase by more than 200 per cent for fire department three years

Ian Fitzpatrick

Council grilled Mission Fire Chief Ian Fitzpatrick Monday evening over a report that shows the department unilaterally decided to respond to medical calls in 2010 without seeking council approval.

Prior to 2010, Mission Fire/Rescue typically administered basic medical aid, often related to fires. But in 2010 that changed to include a broad range of medical emergencies, including Echo and Delta calls, the highest priority calls in the 911 service.

That means when a high priority call is put out for an ambulance to attend to a patient with heart problems, or chest paints, or a drug overdose, the fire department also goes as first responders.

As a result of this administrative decision, the department went from responding to 129 medical calls in 2008 to 323 calls in 2010, a jump of 150 per cent. That number skyrocketed again in 2011 to 530 calls, another 64 per cent increase.

Of the 1,338 calls the fire department responded to last year, nearly 40 per cent were medical calls, compared with just 14 per cent in 2009.

“It was a matter of saying, because we have core members at the hall, we could get there probably quicker than the ambulance — which we generally do a higher percentage of the time — and if we can make a difference for that person in need then that made sense for the citizens of this community,” said Fitzpatrick.

But that response didn’t entirely satisfy council.

“Clearly, council didn’t approve the increase in service. It was an operational decision and it should have been a decision at the political level,” said Coun. Larry Nundal, adding even though council might have approved the decision it wasn’t given that opportunity.

“You don’t have engineering adding three more roads or sewer pipes or anything else unless it’s been discussed at the government level,” he said.

No estimate was immediately available on what the financial impact has been for the service changes.