Firefighter’s group sounds alarm over ambulance delays in Nova Scotia

The organization that represents professional firefighters in Nova Scotia’s capital is adding its voice to those of paramedics concerned over ambulance delays in the province.

Joe Triff, a 14-year firefighter with the city of Halifax and former paramedic, is also vice-president of the Halifax Professional Fire Fighters Association.

A recent post on social media highlighting continued reports of long ambulance wait times has him voicing concerns on behalf of his profession.

Over the weekend, a volunteer Twitter account that monitors fire calls, @HRMFireNews, tweeted fire crews responding to a motor vehicle collision on Prospect Road on May 7 were told the estimated arrival time for EHS would be 3 hours.

Nova Scotia RCMP says the collision between two cars happened around 7:15 p.m. that Saturday and confirms a female suffered minor injuries. An RCMP spokesperson told CTV the woman was taken to hospital by a family member.

But when asked about the incident, EHS would only tell CTV News an ambulance was called to the area but was cancelled.

In a statement, EHS Operations executive director of provincial operations, Charbel Daniel, writes,

“We are unable to provide further information for privacy reasons. We want to ensure Nova Scotians know that when they are in an emergency situation, they should call 911 and care will begin immediately.”

Triff says it’s not uncommon for firefighters responding to medical calls or vehicle collisions to have to wait for an ambulance to arrive.

“We’ve had a number of incidents lately where an ambulance is delayed, or didn’t come,” he says. “We’ve had family transport people from motor vehicle accidents.”

Firefighters are trained as medical first responders, and typically do a medical assessment of anyone who may be injured at the scene.

But Triff says that training only goes so far.

“Paramedics are the gold standard,” he says. “We don’t have the knowledge, or the equipment, or the capability to transport. So we are very relieved when our paramedic counterparts arrive, that’s the standard for all Nova Scotians.”

Triff says even minor calls can tie up fire resources that must remain at a location while awaiting EHS.

“When EHS has calls that are stacking up, then they have to pick and choose where they send those resources,” he says.

“So often if it’s not a critical patient, we could be on scene for a significant amount of time with someone who’s less critical while they wait to address the more critical calls in the queue.”

But in the meantime, Triff says, there’s always a possibility a fire call could come in at the same time.

“If the fire comes into the district that has a crew tied up on a medical call, it's now the neighboring district that becomes the closest unit, so there's a delay to get the first unit there, if one of the neighboring districts is tied up, you have to go further to get those resources.”

He says currently, Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency is sometimes unable to meet the national standards for firefighting response times and crew minimums because of staffing challenges.

The head of the union representing the province’s paramedics, says the entire emergency response system is under pressure.

“Every weekend for our paramedics is hard,” says IUOE Local 727 business manager Kevin MacMullin. “Because we’re so short-staffed. We lost 13 paramedics in the month of April who left the system.”

The union reported a code critical province-wide at 9:35 p.m. the night the collision occurred on Prospect Road — which means there were two or fewer ambulances available in each county.

“And it’s demanding on our paramedics, because they're worried about back home in their county, while they're responding to a call in some other county, or in Halifax.”

MacMullin still works as a paramedic himself, picking up shifts in his hometown of Sydney.

“It’s difficult, especially when you get an offload delay,” he says. “I was tied up for seven hours with patients [at the hospital], we had our own patient, plus we took over care of a patient, so other crews could get back out.”

He says the union wants to sit down with Nova Scotia’s Minister of Health, Michelle Thompson, to present solutions, which include raising wages for paramedics to help the province compete with other jurisdictions across the country.

While it appears the vehicle collision in Shad Bay didn’t have any serious outcomes, both MacMullin and Triff worry something could happen in only a matter of time.

“This is a desperate situation,” says MacMullin. “And you’re hoping that nobody is seriously hurt.”

“We’re just treading water with the service we have,” adds Triff, “and this is just adding to our plate.”