Fire department adds another medical unit to Calgary streets

The Calgary Fire Department has put its third medical response unit into operation.

Special SUVs allow CFD to respond quickly to medical calls, keep firetrucks free for other calls

The Calgary Fire Department started running specially equipped SUVs, known as medical response units, two years ago as part of a pilot project. The units are sent to medical calls where larger fire engine response is not required. (Steven Neilson)

The Calgary Fire Department has put its third medical response unit into service in the city.

The medical response units started in 2015 as part of a pilot project.

Firefighters are trained first responders and can often get to a call before EMS arrives to start providing medical assistance to patients.

To keep from having to deploy the larger fire engines to the thousands of medical calls the department gets every year, CFD started running two specially equipped SUVs to help save on resources. 

​One vehicle is based out of Fire Station 1 downtown and the other one is operates from Fire Station 12 in Forest Heights.

The latest medical response unit was added at a fire station in the Beltline.

Improved response times

Fire Chief Steve Dongworth said city council approved keeping the program after the pilot project proved its worth.

"The medical response units have been very effective for us," he said.

The units have helped the department meet targets for response times. It's less expensive to run the SUVs to medical calls than a fully staffed engine.

He said having the special units also leaves fire engines and crews available to respond to other calls that may require that equipment or more firefighters.

"We've certainly seen improvement in the availability of the engines in those halls for the fire calls that inevitably — whether they are alarms, reporting fires or actual fire events or motor vehicle collisions, all the traditional things they would go to," said Dongworth.

Calgary Fire Department Chief Steve Dongworth says the medical response units have helped improve response times for the department. (CBC)

Dongworth said not every fire hall needs a medical response unit.

"There's a limit to the number of places where these will work," said the fire chief.

"You need very high call volumes and you need a very high percentage of those calls to be medical calls to make this work. Otherwise, they're just going to sit there."

There are no immediate plans to add more medical response units.

Dongworth said he can see needing another one or two in the years ahead but that will depend on medical call volumes and additional funding from city hall.

He said one possible location for the next unit could be at a station in the city's northeast.