Dorchester's fire chief says shortcomings in New Brunswick's 911 system could be to blame for a recent death in the community.

Dorchester Fire Chief Greg Partridge

Dorchester Fire Chief Greg Partridge says fire departments can sometimes respond more quickly than ambulances and should be dispatched to medical emergencies. (CBC)

Two weeks ago, a woman eating at the Bell Inn restaurant started choking and staff called 911.

An ambulance took more than 20 minutes to arrive and the woman died.

Fire Chief Greg Partridge says his crew, located just a few doors away from the restaurant, could have been on the scene within a few minutes and may have been able to save the woman's life — if his department had gotten the call.

But fire stations in rural communities no longer get medical calls, under provincial rules implemented in 2007 when Ambulance New Brunswick took over the provincial paramedic service.

'Depressing. You know, heart wrenching, knowing that we could have done something.'- Dorchester Fire Chief Greg Partridge

"Depressing. You know, heart wrenching, knowing that we could have done something," said Partridge, who has been with the department for 40 years.

"It may not have made a difference, but my guys and girls are well trained and they definitely would have done their best," he said.

The only fire departments that get medical calls are in cities where the municipalities have stipulated that fire crews be dispatched to medical emergencies along with ambulances.

Rural communities don't have to power to do so.

Partridge says it's hard on the village and his team.

"If someone calls 911 on any kind of medical distress, it's instant medicine just to see us," he said. "You see the relief on their face. They just kind of take of take a deep breath when we go into their house and it's medicine."

911 operator

The Department of Public Safety say 911 operators transfer 911 calls to the appropriate emergency service provider, based on the information provided. (CBC)

Minister of Public Safety Bruce Northrup was unavailable for comment on Friday and a department spokesperson said she could not comment on a specific case.

But under the New Brunswick's 911 system, operators receive calls at one of six centres across the province and transfer the calls to the appropriate emergency service provider, based on the information provided, the spokesperson stated in an email.

"For example, medical calls are transferred to the ambulance dispatch centre," she said.

"There are some municipalities that have protocols in place for dispatching their fire departments to certain medical calls, but this is outside of the 911 service mandate," she said.

Bell Inn restaurant employee Katherine McCabe ​says if she ever has to call 911 again, she will also call the fire department.

She remembers the minutes ticking by as the woman was choking and expecting members of the fire department to pull up.

"All I kept saying is, 'Where are they? Where are they? Where are they? The fire station is around the corner,'" said McCabe.

"I know a lot of [the firefighters] by name. I could have got on the phone and called their home quicker, you know, but in the heat of the moment, obviously, you don't think of that."