Okanagan paramedics and some fire departments have been dealing with a surge in calls for help during the intense heat wave that’s been roasting the region for days.
The paramedics union said that jump in calls combined with staffing shortages is leading to delays in emergency medical response.
The union representing paramedics said the heat wave is making what is already a busy time of year in the Okanagan even busier.
“Our call volume… has just skyrocketed,” said Todd Kunz, a spokesperson for Ambulance Paramedics of BC who works as a paramedic in Osoyoos.
“Everybody is so ready to escape this whole COVID scene it seems and everybody is outside. Being outside has really increased the volume of calls for our heat-related illnesses that we are seeing. We are seeing a lot of dehydration, a lot of heat stroke.”
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The president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., Troy Clifford, said paramedics in the Okanagan are dealing with back-to-back calls and experiencing fatigue in the intense heat.
Clifford said Okanagan paramedics, already dealing with understaffing, aren’t keeping up with the high heat wave call volume.
“It is not as bad as it is in the Lower Mainland … but we are getting delays in responses because of the volume in the Okanagan corridor,” Clifford said.
“At times we are seeing a number of ambulances in Kelowna proper our of service [due to staffing]. When you don’t have enough ambulances and you have increased calls that’s going to potentially lead to patient outcomes that are detrimental.”
The situation has lead Kunz to appeal for patience.
“If the ambulance is delayed and the emergency crews is delayed, be patient with them. They are working extremely hard,” Kunz said.
“We are getting the calls as fast as we can. Don’t take it out on them. They are human and they are working their butts off to help everybody.”
BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), the organization in charge of B.C.’s paramedics, said it has set up an emergency coordination centre to quickly re-prioritize work and re-deploy staff “to focus on the crisis on hand.”
The organization said it is adjusting staffing levels daily as needed and increasing staffing in dispatch centres.
In the long term, the province is planning to hire more paramedics.
“So far this year, 263 paramedics have been hired across the province and over 400 more positions will be posted in July,” BCEHS said in a statement.
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Meanwhile, first responders are urging people to take heat precautions and be careful near the water so they don’t end up needing emergency assistance.
Firefighters also act as alternative medical responders.
The Kelowna Fire Department said it has seen a roughly 30-per cent increase in calls over the past five days since the heat wave began, but it has been able to keep up with that elevated demand.
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Deaths spike province-wide
Province-wide, B.C. has seen a spike in deaths during the heat wave, but so far police in the Okanagan Valley’s major cities aren’t reporting any heat-related sudden deaths.
Across the province, the BC Coroners Service said there have been 486 “sudden and unexpected deaths” during the heat wave.
It’s 321 more than the province would typically see in the same time period.
No details are available yet about how many of those fatalities are in the Okanagan, but Kelowna, Vernon, and Penticton RCMP said they haven’t responded to any heat-related sudden deaths, although Kelowna only reviewed its data for Monday and Tuesday.
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An increase in sudden deaths have been reported in Kamloops.
On Wednesday, the coroners service said it was aware of deaths in the Interior and is hoping to provide more information about where the hundreds of deaths provincially have occurred as soon as possible.
The coroners service said not all death reports have been entered into the organization’s database, so the formal death count is likely lower than the actual number of deaths around the province.
Once the service has confidence that its data is portraying an accurate picture of what is happening, it said it will release regional or local data.
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