Wood Buffalo mayor says top 2022 priority is to bring EMS dispatch back to Fort McMurray

·3 min read
Mayor Bowman says he's focusing on bringing EMS dispatch back to Fort McMurray. (CBC - image credit)
Mayor Bowman says he's focusing on bringing EMS dispatch back to Fort McMurray. (CBC - image credit)

Wood Buffalo's mayor says one of the biggest priorities for the region heading into 2022 is working with the province to bring EMS dispatch back to Fort McMurray.

Mayor Sandy Bowman said the municipality has been working with the province, and talking to Health Minister Jason Copping about the concerns.

In January, the province put Wood Buffalo on the provincial dispatch system, despite resistance from local government.

Bowman said he's optimistic and he's spoken to Copping several times about the issue.

"He's a very fact-based, very smart minister and I believe he's going to do the right thing," said Bowman.

"We've had several meetings in reference to EMS."

Bowman said the municipality is trying to make sure the government knows "our EMS system here… not only works better, but it should be the benchmark for the rest of the province."

He said right now the focus is on providing the minister with the facts, including recorded EMS dispatch calls.

Bowman said the problems that were present when the dispatch was first switched over are still present today. Mainly, that it can take emergency services longer to arrive because the provincial dispatchers aren't familiar with local locations, like the 'bridge to nowhere' that runs over the Athabasca River.

Jamie Malbeuf/CBC
Jamie Malbeuf/CBC

"It's hard to listen to," said Bowman, who has listened to some emergency call recordings.

In an email, Steve Buick, press secretary for Copping, said the minister is "grateful" for Bowman's and other mayors' commitment to "ensuring the best possible EMS services for their residents."

The minister is meeting with Bowman in January as part of the Dispatch Working Group, said Buick. He added the EMS system is "under pressure along with the overall health system."

"We're supporting AHS in responding by increasing the EMS budget and adding staff, and addressing specific issues with dispatch and other aspects of EMS operations," said Buick.

As well, the minister will consider information brought forward by the municipality, and "work with them to find solutions to improve services to their residents."

His other priorities for the next year are flood mitigation, transportation and continuing relationships with industry and Indigenous partners.

Bowman said repairs are coming to Highway 881 in the Spring, and the municipality is still working with the province to find a second route out of Fort McMurray.

He said right now Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo Economic Development and Tourism is working on an economic assessment of an east to west connector.

"That seems to be more feasible," said Bowman.

Part of Bowman's platform when running for mayor was establishing a business advisory committee, and that is now in motion. The municipality is also waiving business licensing fees from last year and the next year.

The Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce said that the business advisory committee will be a step in the right direction.

"I'm very, very optimistic," said Dianna de Sousa, executive director of Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce.

There are several things she said will help the business community at this time: shopping local, decreasing red tape, and hiring local contractors for municipal projects.

She said shopping local is beyond everyday people buying in their town, it's also about the municipality choosing local contractors for municipal jobs.

"We have the spending power to keep our businesses local."

But even with some positive changes coming, de Sousa is still expecting a difficult year for the business world.

"I think we are going to see some struggles as we see all of the subsidies fall by the wayside," de Sousa said.

"I think it's going to be a mixed year. I don't think it's going to be an easy one," said de Sousa, adding that uncertainty and supply chain issues could both have a big impact on businesses in 2022.

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