Opinion by Helge Nome
In the case of an emergency such as a house fire, traffic accident, or the like, most of us probably expect an ambulance or fire truck to arrive on scene shortly after being called. That may turn out to be wishful thinking in some smaller communities in Alberta.
The Village of Caroline (population 500+) and surrounding rural area has had its own volunteer fire service for some 50 years and a volunteer based ambulance service for the better part of 30 years. Over that period the character of the community has changed with greatly increased traffic on area highways and an influx of retired city people looking for a retreat in the countryside in
the scenic eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains in West Central Alberta. While the call volume to the local fire department is relatively low, the complexity of the situations encountered have increased along with more sophisticated equipment to deal with contingencies. As well, on long weekends in May and August, some 40,000 city dwellers stream into the back country to “get away from it all”. That puts a strain on volunteers who might want to join in the festivities rather than going to rescue the foolhardy.
As older volunteers retire, the strains are now beginning to show up, and a fire crew may, or may not, show up when they are needed the most. To make matters worse, their training and experience may fall short of what is required to successfully deal with the situation.
There is a great tradition of volunteerism in emergency services in North America, but the world is changing. Some 15 years ago the Caroline & District Volunteer Ambulance Association had the same problem and developed a unique solution that has withstood the test of time. As the number of local volunteers shrunk towards an unsustainable number, professional Emergency Medical Responders (EMRs), Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and Paramedics from larger metropolitan areas were enticed to come and volunteer on the ambulance’s 24/7 roster in return for having their travel costs reimbursed. They needed to log in a certain amount of time on duty in order to keep their professional licenses current. So it was a win-win situation and it has worked ever since. All of a sudden the pool of prospective volunteers was vastly increased and the prospect of spending time in a very attractive area helped matters along. This system, which relies on a local manager dedicated to the service, has worked very well and is now funded by Alberta Health Services.
Is this a model that the Caroline Fire Department could adopt for 24/7 coverage?
Comment by Andy Plunkett in Queensland, Australia:
Boy, these Opinions seem to come thick and fast. I hope you never want for topics.
You would remember me visiting the Caroline Ambulance Centre. The Paramedics on duty explained the manning situation which to me was very interesting. As you mentioned in your article it appears to work quite well.
At Capella which is similar in size as Caroline there are three resident paramedics. One is OIC and the other two relievers. Steve, the OIC has been here around 4 years. Relievers Ben and his wife Kerry share their 7 day roster as they have two young children. They have moved to Capella from the Sunshine Coast where they own their own home. At Capella they can work the sharing timetable as the Ambulance Station is beside the relief paramedic's house. They like Steve have grown to love living in Capella. At an LAC meeting (Local Ambulance Committee) following my return from Canada I explained the Caroline Ambulance Station manning situation. Steve had heard of it. The QAS (Queensland Ambulance Service ) is a State Govt entity with paramedics being State public servants. We pay for the QAS through an addition to the monthly electricity bill. The QAS has had its hiccups but it is reasonably well managed.
The Capella Fire brigade is all voluntary but they receive payment for training evenings/days and call outs of course. At present it appears to be well manned but for a period numbers were low due to retirements and people moving away.