The Cariboo Regional District board is asking the province to ensure first responders from smaller communities are provided medical oxygen free of charge.
Under a new policy, BC Emergency Health Services cannot provide medical oxygen and related equipment such as masks to first responders for free.
At its regular board meeting Friday, Aug. 26, the CRD board agreed unanimously the new policy is unfair.
“For smaller departments and those called on more frequently than other departments that are closer to an ambulance station, their costs are far higher,” said CRD chair Al Richmond after a board discussion on the matter. “They have to go farther and stay with a patient longer so obviously they would use more oxygen.”
Richmond said it calls into question services put into place to augment provincial emergency services being called upon to provide frontline services and pay all the costs.
“Volunteers give their time to get trained as first responders,” Richmond told the Tribune. “In many cases the departments are running their own vehicles and not asking for compensation for fuel or mileage or their time, but they are asking to be compensated for the materials they use to be replaced. I don’t think that is unreasonable.”
If supplies are not going to be covered then the CRD will have to question whether it can provide first responder services at all, he said.
Area H director Margo Wagner is a first responder instructor for Forest Grove and said refilling oxygen bottles is the most expensive item on the department’s budget.
“I find it interesting on the new list that they include airways as a replaceable part, but they do not include oxygen masks or bag valve masks (BVM). If you need to insert an airway you need to give them oxygen — it is a tango thing,” Wagner said. “The disposal BVMs are also very expensive to replace.”
Wagner said it is Emergency Health Services that normally initiates communities to form an emergency responder program because of delayed response times and remote rural locations.
The CRD board passed a motion unanimously to send a letter to the provincial government highlighting their concerns about these changes and requesting that provincially-funded accounts be set up for first responders from small communities (less than 4,000 people) to allow the refilling of first responder oxygen bottles.
The exception, the board agreed, would be for oxygen that departments use for training.
Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson said when he was an MLA in 2010, BC Ambulance Service tried to implement the same thing.
“At the time we pointed out that somehow a service that’s working around gaps in the BC Ambulance Service was going to have to come up with the money to work around gaps in the BC Ambulance Service,” Simpson said.
“We talked about how much our local taxpayers pay for search and rescue and various other things that are enhancing the BC Ambulance Service.”
At the upcoming Union of BC Municipalities conference in September, Simpson said it will be important to talk with other people to come up with a resolution from the floor to fight the policy.
BCEHS did not respond to the Tribune’s request for an interview by press time.