Dispatching firefighters on medical emergencies could have saved loved ones, family members say
RIVER JOHN, N.S. -- Families of patients who died before paramedics arrived are sounding the alarm about ambulance wait times in Nova Scotia and the paramedics' union is doing the same.
When Teddy Joudrey had a heart attack, he called his daughter, Grace Clough, who dialled 911.
"I was on the phone with my father for 15-20 minutes before he passed away or he went silent," Clough said.
Joudrey died and never went to the hospital.
Clough says it took 45 minutes for paramedics to arrive.
"It’s enraging that a fire department is two minutes away that has men that could possibly go to your home and and they’re not allowed to do that," Clough said.
Last week Kevin George tried to resuscitate his wife.
He says it took paramedics an hour and 20 minutes to get to his house in Bass River, N.S.
"I was trying to get my wife to breathe again," George said. "Crying and struggling by myself, yelling and screaming for help but nobody came."
She passed away. George says he's furious the firefighters were never dispatched -- something CTV has confirmed.
"I can see the fire hall from the back of my house," George said. "Two minutes away, help wasn’t there. I can’t come to realize why I didn’t get help."
Their stories are surfacing as the paramedics' union sounds the alarm over shortages across Nova Scotia.
The president of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 727 says there are several problems.
"Call volume, human resource issues, not enough paramedics, not enough ambulances," Michael Nickerson said from Sydney, N.S.
COVID-19 had also kept some firefighters from responding to medical emergencies.
"Our firefighters that were out doing some of that emergency calls have been prevented from doing that," said Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil. "It’s my understanding that training is ongoing now."
That training means that firefighters will be able to respond in the future.
"Obviously, the concern that I heard this weekend out of the Bass River area is certainly alarming and I know it’s being looked into," McNeil said.
George says it's too late for his wife.
"There ain’t no turning back," he said. "All I got is memories, pictures."
Good memories of how she lived, but not how she died.
In an e-mailed statement, Charbel Daniel, a senior manager with EHS Operations System Support, said a decision was made at the start of the pandemic to restrict the amount of first responders who could go on medical emergency calls.
Daniel said it was made "out of an abundance of caution for responder safety, and in order to protect and minimize potential exposures for the MFR community, their families, and the general public."
Last September, the Medical First Responder (MFR) program in Nova Scotia started training agencies whose responders were mask fit-tested and trained so they could respond to medical calls.
"The second phase is underway, with 58 MFR agencies and responders being brought on-line with the EHS Medical Communication Centre," Daniel said. "The final phase will include bringing on-line all remaining MFR agencies and responders (126 agencies and responders) and is expected to be completed in the coming months. We are working hard to bring all agencies online over the coming months in a safe and timely manner."