Edmonton fire department shifts focus to urgent medical calls to optimize response

March 28, 2024
EMS Fire engine ambulance

Edmonton’s fire service refocuses on urgent medical needs

Edmonton Fire Rescue Services (EFRS) is adjusting its operational focus to primarily respond to urgent medical calls, aiming to reduce the strain on its resources caused by a significant increase in medical-related incidents.

In a recent report to the community and public services committee, Fire Chief Joe Zatylny revealed that 70 percent of the 95,496 calls received by EFRS in 2023 were for medical emergencies.

The service anticipates the number of medical calls could rise to 80,000 by the end of 2024, reflecting a growing demand for emergency medical support.

Challenges leading to operational shift

Zatylny outlined a series of escalating challenges since 2018, including issues with encampments, the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfire preparedness, and arson related to extortion schemes.

These challenges have pushed the total number of calls for service beyond 90,000 annually.

“This is about prioritizing critical life-threatening and time-critical emergencies and making sure we are there for all Edmontonians when they need us when seconds count being in the right place at the right time,” Zatylny stated, emphasizing the goal to efficiently allocate resources to the most critical situations.

Economic implications and EMS partnership

During the committee meeting, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi inquired about the vital role of EFRS in bridging the gap in emergency medical services (EMS), suggesting the potential for increased risk without their intervention.

The report also highlighted the financial aspect of this service, noting that if Alberta Health Services were to compensate the city for these medical services, it could amount to $28 million annually, potentially offering a 1.5 percent tax reduction.

The city and EFRS are exploring partnerships with Alberta Health Services to refine and improve the efficiency of medical emergency responses.

Implementing a four-point action plan

EFRS, in collaboration with the AHS medical first response program, has devised a four-point action plan set for implementation by the end of June.

This plan includes revising lift assist protocols, modifying pre-alert processes, amending the medical response plan to reduce service calls by 31 percent, and co-developing strategies for high-frequency locations to decrease the immediate need for medical response.

These adjustments aim to better prioritize emergency responses and manage the increasing demand for medical assistance.

FSJA Comment

The strategic redirection of Edmonton Fire Rescue Services to focus on urgent medical calls reflects a pragmatic approach to resource management amid rising emergency call volumes.

By prioritizing life-threatening and time-critical emergencies, EFRS seeks to ensure that its resources are allocated to incidents where they are most needed, potentially saving more lives.

The collaboration with Alberta Health Services and the economic considerations mentioned underscore the complexity of emergency medical response and the importance of inter-agency cooperation.

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