Strathcona County Emergency Services members are getting busier and busier.
The number of times crews are responding to calls outside of the community has been steadily climbing. Strathcona County ambulances are more frequently being seen in places like Leduc, St. Albert and Spruce Grove. According to deputy fire chief for the county, Devin Capcara, it hit an apex at the beginning of July when the pandemic restrictions were lifted.
He explained many factors are contributing to this, including staffing and resource challenges as well as an increase in call volumes.
"When the call for service outpaces the resources that are available, units get moved around through the system."
The current system has been in place for over a decade. In 2009, the responsibility for emergency medical services shifted from the municipalities to the province.
This eventually became the responsibility of Alberta Health Services, which looks after funding and delivering services.
The provincial approach means crews will be moved around to different areas if there are regions that have no ambulance. According to Capcara, this system has pros and cons.
One of the advantages, he highlighted, was that prior to the transition, ambulances could be near emergencies but never get called because it isn't in their jurisdiction. Having the service being run provincially helps eliminate this problem.
"The cons are that, when you're doing calls outside of your community, you don't know the community that you're working in. Every community has specific needs, nuances," he said. "If you live in that community, you certainly know the special needs and the special lingo of the community. You know how to access the senior's care centre, you know how to access the tall buildings. You know your way around, there's a much less likelihood of not being able to find your way in your own community."
The workload has also been a challenge. With the increase in calls to other communities coming in, there have been several instances where off-duty members have been called in to staff the ambulances, mostly on weekends.
"Our crews are tired. The pandemic has definitely been hard on all of us. We have asked a lot of our frontline workers, and it has definitely worn on our people. Our people are working at and beyond capacity," Capcara added.
He concluded by saying they are anxious to start the conversations about what it means to get back more normal operations for their crews.