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The head of Brandon’s firefighter and paramedic union says increasing interfacility ambulance transfers to Winnipeg is putting strain on local first responders.
According to stats provided by the union, the total number of transfers rose from 428 in 2014 to 572 in 2019. As of June 24, Brandon Fire and Emergency Services had driven 279 inter-facility transfers in 2020.
"There’s less staffing sometimes during the day to respond to other emergency calls as far as the fire and rescue side of things," Terry Browett said.
"We don’t typically for the most part staff for ambulance trips. Sometimes we have some extra guys, but a lot of times during the year because of holidays, you have different things, it’s tough to staff those trips. So it’s just starting to run numbers down for the responses."
Brandon Fire and Emergency Services is contracted by the province to drive patients from Brandon to Winnipeg for medical procedures.
Transfer numbers spiked at the beginning of the year, from 56 in December 2019 to 71 in January 2020, but fell during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, when many non-essential medical procedures were paused, according to stats provided by the unions.
In April 2020, Brandon Fire and Emergency Services only drove 25 transfers, compared to 54 the year before.
In February 2020, Brandon firefighters/paramedics drove 45 trips to Winnipeg, compared to 37 the year before.
As of June 24, the service had driven 47 interfacility transfers, compared to 58 in 2019.
Browett said staffing the interfacility transfers sometimes makes it difficult to respond to calls locally.
"It just gets tricky. We now have multiple calls during the day, so we’re having to have other ambulances potentially respond to medical calls from other communities to Brandon ... but a lot of times it increases response times," he said.
Brandon Fire and Emergency Services Chief Scott McDonald said the overall volume of interfacility transfers in 2020 has so far been on par with 2019.
"We did have a drop-off period in the middle, when COVID-19 was going on and it was starting to impact some appointments in Winnipeg, and then when it started to open up again we had a little higher rate of trips coming in, which meant the ambulances were going more frequently," McDonald said.
Depending on staffing levels, McDonald said interfacility transfers can reduce local staffing levels if people call in sick and others can’t work overtime.
When ambulances are all tied up, he said Brandon Fire and Emergency Services can send a fire truck to a medical call to stabilize the patient before an ambulance can arrive.
A spokesperson for Shared Health confirmed that the total number of trips has so far evened out between 2019 and 2020, but demand varies.
"As part of Manitoba’s Clinical and Preventive Services plan, a review of inter-facility transports is being completed by Emergency Response Services to ensure patients from across the province have access to reliable and consistent care," the statement from Shares Health reads.
Browett said a lack of staff has periodically forced Brandon Fire and Emergency Services to temporarily close Firehall No. 2, on 13th Street in the city’s south end, including for a period of time on June 4. That could present an issue for responding to emergencies in the south end. With only Firehall No. 1 open in the north end, the south end could be cut off for a few minutes if a train was passing through Brandon.
The Sun filed a freedom of information request for a list of times Firehall No. 2 was closed due to staffing reasons, but was told it’s not something the city tracks.
Brandon Fire and Emergency Services does not keep specific records regarding the closure of Firehall No. 2. Closures of Firehall No. 2 occur for many reasons, including deployment to a fire or EMS response, participation in training, attendance at public relations events, staff meetings, or non-emergent transfers between health care facilities," the response letter reads.
McDonald said it is rare that the fire hall has to be closed, but can happen for a variety of reasons.
"Interfacility transfers are part of Brandon Fire and Emergency Service’s responses, and we’ll continue to meet the needs of those responses as well as the needs of our other responses."
» Twitter: @DrewMay_
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