Gabriola Fire Chief Will Sprogis is wanting to see BC Emergency Health Services (BC EHS) convert the current model used at the Gabriola ambulance station to what is termed in BC EHS as an ‘Alpha’ station.
Currently, Gabriola Station 153 is known as an SOC (Scheduled On-Call) station.
Paramedics are at the station from 8am to 4pm, and are able to leave the station within 90 seconds to respond to call-outs. From 4pm to 8am, paramedics are on-call (on pager) and will either go home (if they live locally on Gabriola) or sleep at the station, responding to the station if paged out for a call. This is done on a three-day on, three-day off rotation.
Chief Sprogis says he believes the station should be upgraded to an Alpha model – which has paramedics on 12-hour shifts at the station in day and night rotations. This would mean a 90 second response no matter what time of day a call comes in.
It also means the staff working the shift have 12 hours off instead of being on pager overnight between shifts.
Sprogis said under the SOC model, if paramedics time out, or are sick, BC EHS tries to fill their spot with casual staff.
“The problem is there is not always enough staff to make sure the ambulance can respond with two paramedics.
“This problem then falls to the fire department.”
When a lone paramedic responds in an ambulance, and transport is required for the patient, BCEHS and the GVFD have an agreement to allow firefighters to drive the ambulance.
The second ambulance assigned to the Gabriola station is run on a ‘Kilo’ rotation, which is staffed by pager-based on-call staff, who are paid $2 an hour to be on stand-by for 12-hour shifts, until they are paged out. BC EHS does not have enough staff at the Gabriola station to have the Kilo car fully staffed for every shift, and this car is often sent out with a lone paramedic, and then driven by the GVFD members. If the SOC positions were converted to Alpha, there would still be the ‘Kilo’ car that would sometimes need a firefighter to drive for a lone responder.
Sprogis said there had been four times in which GVFD members had driving the primary (SOC) ambulance; and 15 times in which GVFD drove the second (Kilo) ambulance.
Sprogis said lone responder calls are not always critical calls, but can sometimes be minor injuries that still require transport. He said that means the GVFD is being called out to help on calls that would not normally warrant a GVFD response.
“I’m asking people send in letters to BC EHS…to ensure we have a well staffed station, that can respond in 90 seconds, 24/7.”
Sprogis said he would like copies of letters sent to be sent to his office, so that the GVFD can track how many have gone in to BC EHS.
He also asked the Trustees of the Gabriola Fire Protection Improvement District (GFPID) to send in a letter requesting the same. Sprogis said the decision to make those positions Alpha is up to BC EHS, as an agency of the provincial government. There are currently four SOC positions at Station 153. In addition, there are other casual staff assigned to the station who work the secondary ambulance, as well as fill in for when the regular SOC paramedics are sick or otherwise unable to be on shift.
Sprogis said this is not him or the GVFD being critical of what the paramedics at Station 153 are doing.
“We support a fully staffed station. The call volume [at Station 153] represents it should be close to full-time. Cowichan was made an Alpha station. They receive less calls than [Gabriola]. We feel the service is being offloaded on the fire department. We want to see the province do the upgrade.”
Sprogis pointed out that Gabriola was one of the pilot stations for when BC EHS rolled out the SOC model in 2021, and on Gabriola, the model is succeeding better than in other communities which went to SOC.
“That success was partly was because we [GVFD] are supporting it.”
Responding to the Sounder’s request for information on the SOC vs Alpha question, BC EHS provided the following, saying that BCEHS has been rolling out important changes to the paramedic staffing model across the province, including on Gabriola Island.
BC EHS staff wrote, “We are working to address a historical reliance on on-call staffing by introducing hundreds of full time and part time permanent positions, including four new, permanent paramedic positions on Gabriola Island, bringing the total permanent positions to six.
“BCEHS also added a second ambulance on Gabriola Island in November 2021.”
BC EHS clarified those four ‘new’ positions were the four SOC positions which were filled and rolled out at the Gabriola station in August of 2021.
The other two positions are the Community Paramedics.
Gabriola, as well as the rest of the Island District of BC EHS, were part of the ‘pilot’ for the SOC, before BC EHS rolled SOC out across the rest of the province.
BC EHS staff said the provincial agency is working to fill some Scheduled On-Call (SOC) positions and some full-time positions throughout the province that have become vacant. There are no vacant SOC positions on Gabriola.
Staff wrote, “until the SOC positions are filled, BCEHS will continue to staff ambulances with on-call staff and paramedics from elsewhere in the province as needed. On Gabriola, BCEHS has also asked for the assistance of Firefighter First Responders to act as drivers at times, and we greatly appreciate their assistance. In the last two months between March and April the fire department has driven for BCEHS 3 times.
“BCEHS is constantly reviewing staffing across the province to ensure the right staffing model is being used in all areas of the province, including on Gabriola.”
BC EHS did not provide information on how many additional staff would be needed for a conversion to an Alpha station.
BC EHS was asked how the call volume at Gabriola Station compares to Cowichan – which as stated by Gabriola Fire, was already converted from SOC to Alpha. BC EHS did not provide an answer to that question.
Editor’s Note: Ambulance service on Gabriola is operated by the BC Emergency Health Services.
People often confuse the Gabriola Ambulance Society with BC EHS.
The Gabriola Ambulance Society is a separate – and invaluable – Gabriola-specific organization, and is not responsible for ambulance operations.
For more info:
BC EHS: www.bcehs.ca/
Gabriola Ambulance Society: www.gabriolaambulancesociety.org/