Emergency Medical Services in Castor, Coronation and Consort are provided by East Central Ambulance Association. Kevin J. Sabo Photo

East Central Ambulance on the frontlines of the COVID-19 battlefield

‘The past year has been hard on everybody, including the first responders’

By Kevin J. Sabo

For the Advance

The past year has been hard on everybody, including the first responders.

Castor’s Emergency Medical Services crews were called to action nearly 500 times last year, and they were responding as the protocols they work under were constantly changing and evolving, sometimes daily.

“At the start, things were changing multiple times a day,” said East Central Ambulance Operations Manager Lorne Dewart.

“It was a tough time for staff. Our PPE was changing. Our guidance was changing, sometimes multiple times a day, so it was tough to keep up with everything.”

Later on, last summer, things did begin to stabilize but they were different than they were before.

“Things kind of leveled out and got into a more stable routine,” said Dewart. “It’s got to be tough on (the crews), they are constantly wearing surgical masks pretty much the whole time (they) are on duty, except when you have your own downtime. If you are in the ambulance or on a call, or in the station, you are wearing a surgical mask.”

Other changes the crews are dealing with are an increased cleaning regime and morning screening, where the crew members temperature is taken and screening questions are answered.

The crews of East Central Ambulance are dealing with the extra challenges while also dealing with an increase in call volume.

Between Oct. 1st, 2019 and Sept. 30th, 2020 Castor’s ambulance responded to 182 emergency calls, 292 transfers, and three other classification calls, for a total of 477 during the time period.

Other classification calls can be lift assist or fire department standby. The number does not reflect the flex coverage provided to neighbouring communities, a statistic that is not tracked.

“Calls are picking up,” said Dewart.

“And it’s not all COVID. We’ve done a lot of transfers and flex coverage, where we’re asked to cover neighbouring communities. We spend an awful lot of time in Stettler.”

East Central Ambulance runs three ambulance stations, one each in Castor, Coronation, and Consort. Castor is generally the busiest of the stations, however during the time period mentioned above Coronation responded to 326 calls, and Consort responded to 210.

During times where any two of the ambulances in the region are tied up with calls, the third ambulance will move to Coronation.

“We managed to arrange through our contract that we keep one ambulance at home,” said Dewart.

“We’re one of the only ones in the province that has that. (The remaining ambulance) normally flexes to the middle, in Coronation. That way it is close to either end. We’re usually able to keep one (in the area).”

Due to the restrictions put in place on group gatherings due to the pandemic, training within the service has been paused since April 2020 though the Alberta College of Paramedics has acknowledged the COVID-19 training and the updated Medical Control Protocols for the annually required Continuing Education, something that all registered Emergency Medical Responders, Primary Care Paramedics, and Advanced Care Paramedics in the province are required to work on every year.

The ambulance service has 12 full-time primary care paramedics who work on a four day on, four day off, duty rotation.

While on call, they are ready to respond 24 hours a day. The ambulance crews are overseen by the operations manager.