Ambulance strike a 'paramount concern' for mayor as Newfoundland digs out of storm

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — People in parts of Eastern Newfoundland got a good workout Sunday morning shoveling out from knee-deep snow.

A winter storm set in Friday night and dumped up to 50 centimetres of wet, heavy snow onto parts of the island's Avalon Peninsula.

Though it was the first big storm to hit the area in two years, Conception Bay South Mayor Darrin Bent said people in his community had the gear to get through it.

"You can hear snow blowers in stereo pretty much everywhere you go," Bent said in an interview from the town, which is about 30 kilometres west of St. John's.

Besides, he said, in true Newfoundland fashion, there are two days of rain forecast to begin on Monday afternoon.

"We'll dig out, persevere and we'll all be back to work on Monday to wait to see how bad the rain will be on Tuesday."

Snow began on Friday night and let up on Saturday morning, only to start again Saturday afternoon and intensify overnight. Strong winds in downtown St. John's had the flurries blowing every which way, and the city's rowhouses were coated in streaks of pasted-on snow as the sun came up on Sunday.

The LSPU Hall, which is the city's main downtown theatre, announced on Facebook it was cancelling its Sunday evening show "due to the enormous pile of snow dumped in all our driveways and roads."

Kelly Butt, a severe weather watcher for Environment Canada, said in a tweet that over 52 centimetres of snow had fallen in the east end of St. John's as of 6:30 a.m. The radar at the St. John's International Airport logged 48 centimetres, he said.

The storm capped off an unusually snow-free December; Environment Canada meteorologist Robert Grove said the city saw just six centimetres of snowfall last month, which is well below average.

The federal weather agency warned people to stay off the roads on Saturday night, and Bent said most complied. The advice was particularly pressing in Conception Bay South where an ongoing ambulance strike had reduced services.

"It was a paramount concern," Bent said. "And it remains a serious concern. Wait times for ambulances in Conception Bay South have been a concern for a long time."

Firefighters can respond to medical emergencies and provide basic emergency care including oxygen and CPR. "But that's as far as it goes," Bent said.

About 120 workers with seven private ambulance services owned by Fewer's Ambulance Service walked off the job early Friday afternoon, seeking higher wages and a better pension plan. The company is funded for its services by the provincial government.

Communities in Newfoundland immediately affected by the strike action include Stephenville, Fogo, Gambo, Bonavista, Conception Bay South, Holyrood and Trepassey.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey called Saturday evening for an emergency meeting of the legislature to debate a bill that would make private ambulance services essential. That meeting will begin Monday at 10 a.m.

"I hope it's a step in the right direction," Bent said. "I'm pleased to hear that the premier has taken this action, and I hope it leads to a swift end to this dispute."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2023.

The Canadian Press