B.C. paramedics, firefighters to be given more medical powers to assist in emergencies

When B.C. first responders arrive on scene of an emergency, the province says they will now have more medical skills to assist immediately.

On Friday, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the province would expand the scope of practice for paramedics, firefighters,and other first responders.

He says the move came after consultations with many key stakeholders following the tragic deaths of hundreds of British Columbians over the summer heatwaves.

Related Articles: B.C. summer heatwave claimed at least 595 lives

At the time, the minister said the province would work to hire more full-time paramedics and dispatchers. He says B.C. has followed through on that promise by hiring 85 paramedics, 65 dispatchers, and adding 22 more ambulances to the fleet.

“When we need help, we call 9-1-1 and we need to know and must know help is on the way quickly,” Dix said regarding the commitment the province made in the summer to change to response times.

He says the other recommendation was to license paramedics to do more hands-on medical procedures.

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“Could include needle decompression for major chest trauma to support breathing, using portable ultrasound to better assess patients and inform care decisions, enhancing airway management skills, and providing life supporting or sustaining medications during transport,” he said.

He says firefighters will be trained to test blood pressure and blood glucose on scene, will be licensed to administer medications for allergic reactions, and will be able to assist paramedics in the care and transport of patients.

Along with these changes, will be a long-term plan to increase mental health support for frontline staff who have been dealing with B.C.’s pandemic, opioid crisis, wildfires, and now floods all within the last two years.

Ryan Sinden, the board chair at BC Emergency Medical Assistants Licensing Branch, says this is historic and major step forward for first responders and patient care.

“I am reassured that when somebody calls for help responders will show up with more tools and training than they have ever had before,” Sinden said.

The announcement comes following outrage over changes at E-Comm which will see 9-1-1 operators place certain calls on hold instead of staying on the line while the caller waits to speak with ambulance.

Read more: E-Comm assures B.C. 911 changes for ambulance service only temporary

Dix says the province is addressing the issue of call times through more jobs.

“We are responding by meeting the need, by adding dispatchers, 30 already with another 35 coming and more after that to meet the need on the dispatch needs on the ambulance side, and that’s critical,” he said.

Dix says the province is aware that there has been an increase in calls to 9-1-1, and the expansion on the scope of practice will actually assist in emergency response times and outcomes.

He argues that those being told to wait are not the ones who need help immediately.

“Being put on hold is for the non-life-threatening illness and essentially doesn’t change when the response will be just means you will be on hold for some time. That’s the decision made by E-Comm because they want to provide better service from police and fire,” he said.

With files from Hana Mae Nassar

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