Changes to Emergency Ambulance Dispatch

Ambulance Dispatch Council with masks

AHS is risking patient care

On August 4, 2020, Alberta Health Services announced that it will discontinue its contract with The City of Red Deer to provide emergency ambulance dispatch to Red Deerians through our world-recognized 911 Emergency Communications Centre. Instead, emergency ambulance calls will be processed in consolidated dispatch centres outside of Red Deer, where staff don’t know our city. We believe this decision does not put people or our community first, is inefficient, will not result in cost savings and, most importantly, threatens timely patient care.

Emergency Dispatch AHS Proposed Changes

Emergency Dispatch AHS Proposed Changes (pdf)

The Red Deer integrated model

​The City of Red Deer operates an integrated Fire and Emergency Ambulance Service. All firefighters and paramedics with Red Deer Emergency Services are FireMedics; meaning they are dually trained to do both jobs. Red Deer is a model for other communities across Canada in the way we deliver our combined Fire/Rescue/Advanced Life Support Ambulance Service, as emergency responders are trained to respond to medical crisis, regardless if the call was made for fire or ambulance.

Red Deer also dispatches fire and emergency ambulance resources through our accredited 911 Emergency Communications Centre. Red Deer is the only emergency communications centre in the world with four accreditations in fire and medical services, and one of only two in Canada with both fire and medical dispatch accreditation. The City of Red Deer is extremely proud that we provide the very best emergency ambulance dispatch to our residents in emergency situations, where oftentimes, mere seconds count.

AHS changes will delay emergency response times to citizens

When it comes to emergency response, seconds count in life and death situations, and the current local integrated EMS dispatch delivery model allows for more locally coordinated and effective emergency response times. 

With AHS taking over dispatch, citizens will notice the following impacts:

Slower response times

Red Deer’s accredited 911 Emergency Communications Centre currently dispatches emergency ambulance services 18-21 seconds faster than the AHS emergency communications centre in Edmonton. Last quarter, the AHS communications centre in Edmonton averaged a dispatch time of 92 seconds, despite AHS having a standard of 90 seconds. In contrast, Red Deer averaged 71 seconds during the same period. Through consolidated AHS dispatch, response times will get worse.

Inefficient use of resources

Currently, when a 911 call comes into Red Deer’s 911 Emergency Communication Centre, fire and ambulance communications operators are in the same room. This allows for quick and integrated collaboration, and our units leave the station earlier in critical situations where seconds count. This is not only an efficient use of public resources but it saves lives. Without integrated dispatch services, the fire vehicle may not be sent to the scene, or there will be a delay as a second call for a fire vehicle will need to be made, with 911 callers potentially having to re-tell their location and situation again during a life and death situation.

Lack of integrated emergency response

In Red Deer, 40% of the time, the local fire vehicle arrives to a call before the AHS ambulance. Because our firefighters are cross-trained as paramedics, they can provide lifesaving care to the patient before an ambulance arrives. Under AHS dispatch, fire would not be dispatched immediately, resulting in delayed patient care that could mean the difference between life and death.

Non-locals taking calls

Our local knowledge and familiarity with landmarks and hard-to-find places is crucial for the safety of Red Deerians, surrounding rural communities and central Alberta region during emergency calls, when seconds count. Dispatchers outside of central Alberta don’t know our local areas.

Delayed rural response

Removing regional integrated dispatch services will delay the dispatch of emergency services to regional citizens. Our region is vast, and civic addressing is not always standard or possible in our rural communities.

Strain on Fire resources

If AHS dispatch sends our ambulance resource to another community, they also remove fire support from Red Deer. Through AHS dispatch, an ambulance could be sent from a nearby community but this individual would not be dually trained to do fire suppression like a Red Deer FireMedic would be.

No cost savings

The Province believes by eliminating emergency ambulance dispatch in Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge and Wood Buffalo, they will save $5 million a year. However, if Red Deer alone were to bill AHS for the times that a fire unit was dispatched for their services; it would cost $2.15M in 2019. For several years, our fire units have been providing FireMedic services to AHS at no cost to AHS.

Challenges with maintaining ambulance complement

Through Red Deer’s integrated dispatch centre, we are able to actively monitor the number of available ambulances at any given time, and will send fire vehicle when ambulances are further away or not available. Under AHS consolidated dispatch, we will not know the number of ambulances available in our city and region, and therefore will not know when to dispatch a fire vehicle to respond to a emergency quicker.

The City of Red Deer, through the Office of the Mayor, continues to advocate to The Minister of Health to reverse this decision. The City of Red Deer is joined by Mayors in Lethbridge, Calgary, and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, as we call on the Province of Alberta to review and overturn Alberta Health Services’ decision. We request that Minister Shandro honour his commitment to have Alberta Health Services consult municipalities and examine the impact of a consolidated model on local response times and patient safety.

A timeline of our efforts and events so far:

Timeline of our advocacy related to Emergency Dispatch

Emergency Dispatch Timeline (pdf)

Voice your concern

Are you concerned about the proposed changes to emergency ambulance dispatch? If so, please share that with our provincial government officials.

​​Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta 
Tyler Shandro, Minster of Health 
Adriana LaGrange, MLA Red Deer North 
Jason Stephan, MLA Red Deer South

Share your story

Have a story of excellent care you received from Red Deer Emergency Services’ FireMedics? Email secondscount@reddeer.ca.