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

·2 min read

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.

In January, Alberta Health Services consolidated ambulance dispatch across the province and brought municipally run operations in Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo under its control.

The mayors have been lobbying hard against the change, which the United Conservative government said last year would save money and make the EMS dispatch service more efficient.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo took it a step further this week.

"There are circumstances when acts of defiance and resistance, I believe, are absolutely necessary," Mayor Don Scott said Wednesday during a news conference. "When decisions are made by a level of government that put the health of our residents at risk in this region, then that's one of them.

"We need to resist and defy that decision and that's exactly what my council did."

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 said Wednesday it was concerned the municipality's decision could adversely affect patient care and was seeking further information.

"The municipality has not provided any evidence to AHS to suggest that the recent consolidation of EMS dispatch has led to any delays or inappropriate responses," Darren Sandbeck, senior provincial director and chief paramedic with Alberta Health Services said in a statement.

"In addition, the municipality has not provided any information that would back up their public claims that they are having to intervene in specific EMS calls due to integration of dispatch.

"AHS has looked into every event that has been raised to date, and there have been no issues or intervention required by the municipality."

Sandbeck said as of Wednesday afternoon, AHS was continuing to receive and dispatch 911 calls.

Regional fire Chief Jody Butts said 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. "This is truly about the safety of our residents in our region."

Butts said the move will allow the municipality to regain full control of its dispatch services.

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

"This decision by Mayor Scott and members of our council allows us to take a step back."

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

The Canadian Press