Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo council votes to take back EMS dispatch

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FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — A municipality in northern Alberta says it will no longer transfer emergency medical calls to provincial 911 dispatch centres because it is concerned about the safety of its residents.

Mayor Don Scott of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo says there are circumstances when acts of defiance and resistance are necessary.

He says a decision made by the United Conservative government last fall to consolidate 911 emergency medical dispatch services across the province is putting the health of the municipality's residents at risk.

The changes, which consolidated calls in three centres, took effect in Wood Buffalo on Jan. 19.

Wood Buffalo council voted unanimously Tuesday night to give notice to the province that the municipality is taking back control of its dispatch services.

Alberta Health Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Regional fire Chief Jody Butts says more than 20 per cent of calls since the transfer have led to mistakes or delays.

"I want to be very clear that this is an operational decision," he said during a news conference Wednesday. "This is truly about the safety of our residents in our region."

Butts said the move will allow the municipality to regain full control.

"We own the ambulances. We own the infrastructure on the ambulance service," he said. "The ambulance crews are (our) employees."

Alberta Health Services has said it has three EMS dispatch centres in Calgary, Edmonton and Slave Lake that were already dispatching ambulances for 60 per cent of the province's population.

The province has said the change — which also affects Calgary, Red Deer and Lethbridge — will save money and make the dispatch service more efficient.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2021.

The Canadian Press