A five-year-old who was experiencing a serious medical situation had to be brought to the hospital via a fire truck because an ambulance wasn’t immediately available in the City of Red Deer.
At about 3 p.m. on Friday, Red Deer Emergency Services were called to assist the child. An ambulance would not be able to respond to the call within 40 minutes, so an advanced life support pump truck was sent instead.
“We typically would have responded to this type of call in our advanced life support engines,” Red Deer Emergency Services Chief Ken McMullen explained.
But, an ambulance was still too far away as the “conditions of the patient changed,” so the child had to be transported to the hospital via the fire truck, McMullen said.
“We don’t believe this has ever been done here in the City of Red Deer,” McMullen said.
“Of course this is a concern, there’s no doubt about it.”
McMullen said he fully supports the crew after they had to make the “extremely difficult” decision to transport the patient via fire engine.
“These are extremely well-trained and professional firefighter-paramedics that we work with here,” said McMullen.
“It’s unfortunate the circumstances put them in a position to have to make that call. But they made the call and I support the decision they made and we will deal with any ramifications if they come.”
There are other Alberta communities that have had to transport patients to hospital in vehicles that weren’t ambulances, said McMullen.
“In Calgary, patients have been transported in both a fire apparatus as well as in police cars,” he said.
“We have talked about it and we knew it was a possibility in our community. We hoped the day wouldn’t come, but unfortunately the circumstances put us in the position where a decision was made to begin transport.
“It’s not lost on anybody how the pressures of our healthcare system are right now and our ambulances. Ambulance wait times have been known to be in that time frame – 20 to 40 minutes is not out of the ordinary.”
McMullen said it’s important to note the city’s firefighters are also paramedics.
“Although they show up … in a fire truck and not an ambulance, they are all fully advanced life support certified paramedics. They’re using the same skills with the same tools that our ambulance operators are doing, we just don’t have the ability to transport in our firetrucks,” he said.
Alberta Health Services said in a statement it is aware of the pediatric response that was supported by Red Deer Emergency Services.
“EMS continues to see an unprecedented increase in emergency calls due to several combined factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, opioid concerns, and emergency calls related to people returning to regular levels of activity,” Alberta Health Services stated.
AHS said “though the current situation is not unique to Alberta,” the provincial health authority is taking action.
“AHS has also announced a 10-point plan EMS plan and EMS response times are being addressed urgently. All 10 of the actions have been or are in the process of being implemented,” said AHS.
“Ensuring ambulances are available for Alberta patients who need one is our focus. EMS continues to respond to the majority of serious 911 calls quickly and appropriately.”