Every second during an emergency will dictate the outcome; a structure fire will double in size every minute of free burn when left unchecked, the brain will begin to suffer irreversible damage after three to five minutes without oxygen and the average adult can bleed to death in just minutes.
Time is critical, time is invaluable, and time can feel torturously slow when you are waiting for help to arrive.
A decision was made by Clearwater County council in mid-December to no longer renew a contract with Sundre emergency services, specifically Sundre Fire Department (SFD), which arranged for SFD to automatically be the first responders for emergencies in the James River area and areas west of Sundre to the Eastern Slopes.
The contract had been justified by the Sundre department’s closer proximity and faster response times to these areas. It was the most logical way to provide fast and skilled response throughout Clearwater County, with emergency services working together in the best interests of the public. And after 40-plus years of providing service to these areas, Sundre’s department has specific equipment, training and the kind of area knowledge that takes huge amounts of dedication, energy and years to learn. They have an intimate familiarity with the residents, trails, back roads, waterways, mountains, communication blackout zones, and remotest of accesses and cabins, all of which helps to save seconds and respond appropriately.
The new change means that Clearwater County residents and recreational land users in these areas will no longer be automatically receiving coverage from Sundre as of this April. Although responders from Sundre might still be called upon to assist with emergencies, the department will instead have to wait for emergency services from Clearwater County to first determine whether to call for mutual aid.
This will potentially mean longer response times for those awaiting help, a fact which was grossly accepted by Clearwater County’s councillors. The Clearwater Regional Fire Rescue Services deputy chief previously remarked that outcomes for patients in the West Country won’t be significantly impacted by longer response times, and that structure fires further west would likely be total losses regardless.
Blatantly accepting structure fires as total losses sends the clear message to those residents that they can no longer hope for aid, protection, or even rescue should they have an incident in their home, just because they live in the West Country. These homeowners may also see their insurance premiums increased as a result of the decreased coverage.
Additionally, to remark that response times will not significantly affect patient outcomes is completely unrealistic and backwards to everything emergency services strive to achieve. This shows a complete indifference for human suffering and ignorance towards basic medical truths and pre-hospital care.
Emergency services cannot be allowed to devolve; there is simply no acceptable reason to make patients suffer longer, compromise public safety, or accept damage or losses that could otherwise be mitigated when an equally capable, trained and staffed department diligently waits on call 24-7 closer by.
There should be no slack from the public regarding any level of government and their decisions when it comes to the protection and safety of the citizens and public they serve. Government was created to ensure the safety of its people, so the decision to compromise public safety and well-being of a county’s citizens cannot stand.
It is wrong ó deadly wrong ó to deny anyone the right to the quickest emergency care. There is no issue of capability, knowledge or skill among emergency service providers; there is only the struggle for efficient access to care versus cost savings.
Clearwater County residents and land users deserve better; they deserve the best possible and practical services. Budget cuts cannot be justified when they potentially come at the cost of lives and suffering. The councillors must find another avenue for cost savings ó putting a price tag on lives is just not acceptable.