On November 9, 2013, I called 911 at 5:07 a.m. when my husband suffered a heart attack. Our residence is in Sunset Properties in Okanagan Landing.
The fire department arrived at 5:24 a.m., 17 minutes after the call, and they took over the CPR. The Okanagan Landing fire hall is not manned, so they had to come from the downtown fire hall, the only staffed fire hall in Vernon.
I have been told that 60 to 70 per cent of the services provided by the Vernon Fire Department involve emergencies and medical response. The fire department often does the job that should be done by the ambulance service. If the Okanagan Landing fire hall was manned by permanent staff, a very large area of this city could be properly serviced, for both fire and medical emergencies.
The ambulance didn’t arrive until 5:38 a.m. This was 31 minutes after my frantic call because they were a part-time unit that had to be paged. Only one ambulance was on duty at that time, and it was already involved in another call.
The response was too slow. My husband, at age 64, died.
I believe the ambulance service in Vernon requires changes in scheduling and in staffing. When one ambulance is on duty and attending a call, why isn’t a part-time unit called in immediately to be ready to provide service in case of another call?
Some first responders have only a couple of months of training and work only when called in. Some have designation as critical care paramedics and some as advanced care paramedics, and are full-time responders. The ambulance system in B.C. seems to depend upon part time, on call responders, who must, of course, have other employment to make ends meet. How does this situation ensure prompt emergency care?
Beautiful Vernon is a retirement choice for many of us who have come from cities where we have had ambulance service and fire halls staffed with full time and well-trained personnel. We buy properties in Okanagan Landing, Adventure Bay, Canadian Lakeview Estates, the Outback, Predator Ridge, etc. and we assume that we will have the emergency services we need in a life-threatening event. It’s only when we make that desperate 911 call and wait for help that arrives too late that we realize the frightening truth.
I encourage the citizens of Vernon to ask our new mayor and city council about their intentions toward funding the fire department. Yes, having full-time staff in the Okanagan Landing fire hall would mean an increase in taxation, but spread over all of the taxpayers, it becomes an acceptable increase. What are the lives of our citizens worth? Ask the families of those who didn’t live across the street from the downtown fire hall.
I also encourage our mayor and council to discuss the ambulance service we receive with the provincial government, which currently is not providing enough funding to adequately ensure good ambulance response. Perhaps a special committee could be organized to look into the fire service, ambulance service and the hospital emergency department to see if there could be some co-ordination and co-operation.
With hope and optimism that change is possible.