An Ashcroft resident living within sight of the town’s ambulance station has died, after an ambulance took nearly half-an-hour to reach him.
It is the second time in less than a month that an Ashcroft resident in severe medical distress has had to wait nearly 30 minutes for an ambulance, despite the community having a 24/7 Alpha ambulance station. Both residents lived within half-a-block of the station.
Ashcroft Fire Rescue received a call from Kamloops Fire Dispatch at 8:42 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 14, advising that a man had suffered an apparent heart attack and that the nearest ambulance was in Clinton and would take 35 minutes to arrive.
Fire Chief Josh White took the call, and advised that the fire department is a volunteer one, and members are not trained as medical first responders. However, as he has a Level 1 First Aid ticket he said that he would attend.
After grabbing the automated external defibrillator (AED) and gloves from the fire hall, he arrived on site at 8:58 a.m., closely followed by three other firefighters who arrived in personal vehicles.
“The AED indicated no pulse, and never called for a shock,” says White. “However, it was evident he had only recently gone down when we arrived, and I couldn’t say if he was dead or alive at that point.”
A neighbour produced security cam footage which showed the man walking his dog in an alleyway off Elm Street, directly across from the ambulance station. The footage shows the man collapsing at 8:21 a.m.
White says that firefighters and a neighbour performed CPR until the ambulance arrived at 9:11 a.m. “Ambulance paramedics got their equipment going and did all they could do, but after a little while they called it.”
White attended the scene on July 17, when an Ashcroft resident who had gone into cardiac arrest had to wait for an ambulance to arrive. That incident happened less than 200 metres from where the Aug. 14 incident took place.
“We were half-a-block from the ambulance station,” says White. “We could see it from where we were.
”Something’s not right. That’s another person we’ve lost in our community.”
White says he gets angry when Ashcroft Fire Rescue gets these calls.
“It’s not what we typically do, but as Good Samaritans we have that conscience where we have to go.
“It tears me in half. I can’t keep making this decision time and time and time again. I’m always going to go — I have that first aid ticket — but I don’t want to be that person, because it puts me in a really bad place. I got that ticket to look after co-workers, not the whole community.
“If I know something is happening in town I’m obligated to go, and it’s tough mentally, because I’m going to people I know or people I see in the community.”
Following other recent instances in B.C. where people in medical distress have faced long ambulance waits — including an incident in Surrey on Aug. 4 where a man died of self-inflicted knife wounds while waiting half-an-hour for an ambulance — there have been calls for more firefighters, both volunteer and career, to be trained as medical first responders. White says this is not the answer.
“This isn’t in our scope of operations. We can’t budget for the training and equipment needed to fill this gap that BC Ambulance seems to be leaving us with. I don’t fault or blame our local ambulance paramedics, but if we ran our fire halls like this people would be really upset.”
He adds that it is not just a question of the necessary money and the training, especially for volunteer firefighters.
“A lot of people who come into our fire hall didn’t sign up to be paramedics or even medical first responders. If they wanted that they’d be paramedics. They wanted to be firefighters and deal with structure fires.
“Some knew they wanted to do highway rescue, but it’s not mandatory, because it’s not for everyone. Those are high impact instances where you’re seeing pretty traumatic stuff, and it takes a toll over time.”
He adds that with 98 per cent of the highway rescue calls Ashcroft Fire Rescue responds to, they don’t know the victims.
“If we’re being medical first responders in our own community, not everyone will want to do that, as it will take a mental toll. These are people we truly know. We’ll always be there to help these people out, but from the medical end of it I could be called to my mom’s house or a co-worker’s house, and this isn’t something I could deal with day in and day out.
“Mentally, it will fatigue us to a whole new level. When it’s people we know it hurts even more. It’s a huge mental weight.”
White also believes that having fire departments go the medical first responder route is an “easy way out” for BC Emergency Health Services.
“It’s a cheap fix for them. ‘Oh, firefighters can bandage up that arm and we don’t have to send a truck.’”
White adds that in his more than 20 years on Ashcroft Fire Rescue he has never seen a situation like this.
“I don’t know what to do at this point. We didn’t join up to do this. We’ll always back up our brothers and sisters in the ambulance service, but for most of us it falls outside our scope. The call volume will go up and up, and we’ll be asking more and more of our volunteers.”
White says that as fire chief he wants to be there to help the community, but putting additional pressure on fire departments is not the answer or the solution.
“We have ambulances here in B.C. for a reason. If we’re going to look to volunteer and career fire departments to do this, why do we have ambulances?
“Medical first response is not in our purview. We’ll keep going to assist on these calls until BC Ambulance gets its shit straight, but it will take its toll on us.”