Purchasing a smaller medical response vehicle that would ease the workload and extend the life of a front-line fire engine is not feasible at the moment, according to district staff.
Mission Fire/Rescue Service answered council’s call to look at the cost and practicality of bringing in an alternative method of response for the department. Currently, firefighters are first responders when a high priority call is put out for an ambulance to attend to a patient suffering from, for example, heart problems, chest pains or a drug overdose.
The fire department responds to these medical incidents in a fire engine. By employing a medical response unit there would be a 60 per cent reduction in the usage of front-line engines, according to a report presented to Mission council on Tuesday night and written by deputy chief Larry Watkinson.
The report cites less wear and tear on the front-line fire engine — its life span could potentially be extended by five years — and reduced fuel cost as the primary benefits of the medical response unit.
Watkinson listed the initial $58,000 capital outlay for the unit and subsequent $2,500 annual operational cost as drawbacks — the latter number based on anticipated savings from sidelining the main fire engine during medical emergencies.
The Mission Professional Fire Fighters’ current collective agreement would also mandate the medical response unit be staffed by four crew members, potentially delaying response times for structural fires or accidents where a larger engine and crew are required.
While calling it a great report, Coun. Tony Luck outlined his concerns.
“It seems to me that with this what we are doing here is we’re going to be taking over some of the responsibility of the B.C. Ambulance Service,” said Luck. “So I guess my question is … but what have we done about attracting some funding from the provincial government because of this? I’d really like to see if we can do that.”
Coun. Dave Hensman was more optimistic about the potential for a medical response unit.
“I like the idea because what it does … it moves wear and tear off the large trucks for these smaller calls. So I think the concept is awesome,” said Hensman, but agreed with staff’s recommendation to not proceed with the purchase.
Coun. Jenny Stevens said she wasn’t keen on the idea of waiting until “tomorrow” for a medical response unit.
“From the patient’s point of view … this smaller unit would be more patient-friendly than the fire truck,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mayor Adlem was not optimistic about receiving provincial funding for a new response unit.
“If we are going to be downloaded with medical calls we should probably do this, but I tend to agree with the [fire] chief, that it’s not the time to go yet. We’ve got some due diligence to do on our own,” said Adlem.
In compiling information for the report, Watkinson researched a couple Lower Mainland fire departments where a medical response unit model is already in place.
In May, Port Coquitlam Fire & Emergency Services introduced a specially equipped Ford F-150 pickup, which now responds to 58 per cent of that department’s calls.
Mission interim fire chief Bob Cannon called the downloading of medical response calls to all municipalities a province-wide concern.
He anticipates the district will create a report on the quantity of medical calls the department receives to see if a new response unit is merited.