By Heather Ramsay-Last year Queen Charlotte was not left without ambulance service for even one day, but that’s because the crew is stretched to the limit, says unit chief Faye Beaulieu.
“I’ve been able to keep cars staffed. But it is difficult through the summer months,” she said.
Her cohorts in Sandspit and Masset have not been so lucky.
Regional district director Travis Glasman said Sandspit residents are often without service. To make matters worse, one of their key ambulance attendants, Gae Houston, recently moved to Fort St. John to take up fully-paid ambulance work.
Mr. Glasman said the Houston family got the ambulance service going in Sandspit. “They’ve been the backbone of it,” he said.
He is worried that Mr. Houston will also move, once his logging job slows down.
Mr. Glasman said something known as the fox trot shift, which pays attendants $10 an hour while on call, might be enough of an incentive for Mrs. Houston to move back.
Ambulance attendants on the islands are paid $2 per hour to be on call and a full wage for the hours they are called out.
Mr. Glasman said others have been reluctant to take up the posts because the long training periods take potential recruits away from work and family for lengthy periods of time.
Rural communities across BC are facing similar problems. On the Labour Day weekend several communities, including Sandspit and Masset, were left without service, according to North Coast MLA Gary Coons.
Chris Nickerson, executive director of the northern chapter of the BC Ambulance Service, based in Prince George, is arriving on the islands next week to meet with unit chiefs and discuss a recruitment drive.
“We obviously have challenges in remote communities,” he said.
The Queen Charlotte ambulance unit receives just under 200 calls a year, said Ms Beaulieu. Her crew often take three or four 10-hour on-call shifts a week. This is on top of their regular jobs, she said.
Two people in the community always wear pagers and, as unit chief, she carries one all the time too, in case an extra pair of hands is needed.
Sometimes her crew has been forced to rely on firefighters as drivers, but there must always be someone trained in Occupational First Aid Level 3 in attendence on an ambulance call.
She said even that is changing and by Dec. 31, attendants will need an extra 35 hours of training. Attendants don’t have to pay for the training, she said, but the problem is getting the training to come to the islands.
Even with all the challenges, Ms Beaulieu has been at this job for 19 and a half years.
She said being an ambulance attendant is fulfilling, but it is also a vital service to the community.
“It’s something not everyone can do. A lot of volunteer organizations, anyone can step in,” she said.
She invites anyone to visit the ambulance station on Monday nights between 7:30 and 9 pm when the crew holds its meetings.
“A lot of people take the ambulance service for granted. They just call the number and expect a car to be there within minutes. It is important that people see what we do,” she said.
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