Ambulance drivers and fire crews are acutely feeling the crush of calls during the fentanyl crisis, a problem that’s thinning available resources and pushing up wait times for emergency medical help.
Surrey’s fire chief says fentanyl overdose-related calls are “through the roof,” and the Ambulance Paramedics of BC (APBC) warns the crisis is worsening a problem that was already dire.
“The workload placed on us is huge,” said APBC spokesperson Dave Leary, who is a paramedic in the Surrey/North Delta area.
“This isn’t just impacting the drug users and whatnot,” Leary said. “This impacts everybody, because these high volumes of overdoses… all these other calls that would come in every day, wait now.”
Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis told The Leader while fire crews’ response times for medical calls is still well below the provincially mandated limits, they are getting longer.
And firefighters are stressed from the continual calls, which don’t seem to be abating at all.
However, wait times for ambulances are only getting worse because of the fentanyl crisis.
“It’s not unusual that I go to a call and they’ve been waiting an hour, two hours,” Leary said.
“That’s unacceptable. We don’t know when someone calls 911 what’s happening on the other end of the line.
“It’s scary. Somebody not breathing? In four to six minutes, they’re going to die… That bothers me more than anything, when I go to calls and they have been waiting.”
The province recently announced a $5-million injection of funding for paramedic services, which will fund stationary medical support units in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver and high overdose areas of Surrey.
The stations will act as a re-supply area for paramedics and will furnish users with information about how to stay safe.
Paramedics will also use bikes or ATVs to respond more quickly in hard-to-navigate areas.
But Metro region is still short 25 ambulances – and that doesn’t account for the extra ones that are needed to address this crisis.
In October, overdoses claimed 63 lives across B.C., the highest monthly death toll since April.
The total deaths reported by the B.C. Coroners Service stands at 622 for the year up to the end of October, up markedly from the 397 deaths in the same 10 months of 2015.