Calgary wants province to help pay for fire department

The city is going to ask the provincial government for money to help pay for all the medical calls the fire department is responding to in Calgary.

Firefighters responded to 28,000 medical calls last year

Fire department crews are often at the scene before EMS and provide basic life support as they wait for paramedics to arrive. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the province should chip in for the fire department's life-saving services. (David Bell/CBC)

The city is going to ask the province to contribute to the cost of its fire service.

A council committee directed the mayor to send a letter to the province, asking it for money for the Calgary Fire Department.

Last year, firefighters responded to 28,397 medical calls. That was 45 per cent of all of its calls for service.

Of those calls, 1,100 of them required bleeding control, cardio pulmonary resuscitation or assisting with a drug overdose.

Firefighters often first to arrive

Since 2009, EMS services in Alberta are run by Alberta Health Services and funded by the provincial government. But frequently, city-funded firefighters arrive on the scene before EMS paramedics.

The fire department typically responds within seven minutes while Calgary Fire Department Chief Steve Dongworth said AHS's current target is around 12 minutes. That means firefighters are providing basic life support before paramedics arrive.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the fire department is saving lives and the province should help pay for that service.

"It is part of the medical system and so we have the medical system free-riding a little bit on the great work that our first responders do and we should probably be compensated for that," said Nenshi.

However, the city hasn't put an exact price tag on what that service is worth.

"It's not fair to charge for every single firefighter moment of overhead for every call because some of that overhead, we're going to pay anyway, so we just have to continue to calculate something that looks fair for both sides," said the mayor.

Degradation of fire response

Dongworth said despite the department's great working relationship with Alberta Health Services, medical calls have increasing become a part of their work and they have noticed some degradation of their fire response due to the volume of medical calls.

To help alleviate the pressure on the trucks, the fire department created a series of two-person medical units to dispatch to those calls, which Dongworth said has been very successful, but he is still hopeful the province will consider the city's position.

"The issue for [AHS], and I don't want to speak for them, is they can't just do it for Calgary, if they pay us for medical response, they've got to pay every fire department in Alberta for medical response," Dongworth told CBC Calgary News at Six on Wednesday.

Some provinces help pay for medical responses

Asking the province to pay is not without precedent in Canada.

Fire departments in Winnipeg and Montreal receive funding from their provincial governments. However, most major cities in the country do not get provincial support.

The number of medical calls is on the rise in Calgary.

In the past five years, the number of medical calls has gone up by 18 per cent. Cardiac calls have doubled in since 2013 to 1,669 cases last year.

There has been a 284 per cent increase in drug overdose calls in Calgary since 2013.