Penticton delays signing first responder agreement

Fire chief says deal must be in place in order to start training to renew first responder licences

Penticton council elected to wait until they have received a core services review of the fire department, expected later this month, before discussing a first responder agreement with the province.

Penticton Fire Department Chief Wayne Williams asked council to sign an agreement with the Emergency Health Services Commission that authorizes emergency medical assistant first responders in the city’s fire department to provide pre-hospital emergency care but indemnifies the city against claims. That liability is currently covered under the city’s insurance, which has a deductible of $250,000 for accumulated annual losses.

“Our first responder licences are expected to expire in early 2013,” Williams told council. “We need a signed agreement in order to receive free supplies and free training from the Justice Institute and authorization from the commission.”

Williams hopes to start the training before Christmas so the licence testing could be done in January.

“In order to start training, we need an agreement in place. It leaves us a very short time to get the required training in before we do our testing,” said Williams.

Coun. John Vassilaki wondered why council wanted to delay signing the agreement, saying that both the new agreement and the program benefited the city by transferring liability to the province.

He wondered what his fellow councillors thought might be in the core review  that would convince city council not to go along with the agreement.

“I can just tell you that there are many communities in the province that are concerned about the fire departments, which are paid for by their citizens, picking up ambulatory duties on a continual basis,” said Mayor Dan Ashton. “There is a discussion with the province throwing compensation back to the city for those services.”

Last year, Penticton first responders attended 2,073 medical calls, and about 163 motor vehicle accidents.

The Penticton Fire Department has participated in the First Responder Medical Assistant Program since 1989, when it was created to address recommendations resulting from a report prepared by the then chief coroner Vince Cain.

“Over the 23 years that PFD has been participating in the program, numerous lives have been saved and the effect of injuries, accidents or illnesses has been lessened,” said Williams, who noted that the program doesn’t require additional staff or vehicles, and the department budgets $10,000 annually  for equipment depreciation, oxygen, supplies and training to perform this service.

“From what I have seen here, it only costs us $10,000 a year. Even if one life is lost, it’s worth much more than the $10,000,” said Vassilaki, adding that the first responders had once saved his life. “If it wasn’t for them, I probably would have at least lost a leg.”