Firefighters brought injured toddler to hospital due to lack of ambulances, says Calgary fire chief

Calgary’s fire chief is blaming an “unacceptable” system failure after firefighters had to resort to bringing a toddler to the hospital in a fire truck this weekend. 

The girl has been released from the hospital and is recovering with her family

A van with yellow and red stripes is parked in front of a sign that reads emergency.
A Calgary Fire Department vehicle sits outside the Alberta Children's Hospital emergency room early Sunday morning. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Calgary's fire chief is pointing to an "unacceptable" system failure after firefighters had to resort to bringing a toddler to the hospital in a fire truck this weekend. 

Just after midnight on Sunday, firefighters received a call that a three-year-old girl had fallen and hit the back of her head, said Calgary Fire Chief Steve Dongworth. 

He says firefighters brought the girl to Alberta Children's Hospital, in part, because there were no ambulances available. He says the girl was vomiting and having convulsions. 

"We have a process now because this isn't the first time … there's a number we call where we can talk to a physician," he said. That doctor recommended the toddler be brought to the children's hospital immediately. 

A man wearing a blue and gold uniform stands in front of a yellow crane.
Calgary Fire Chief Steve Dongworth speaks to reporters Monday. He said close to midnight on Sunday a 3-year-old fell and hit her head. (Mike Symington/CBC )

Dongworth said he believes the crew provided "excellent medical care," especially as there was an EMT on board, but said fire trucks aren't set up to transport injured people. 

"That's not their purpose," he said. 

"It's not what we normally do. It's not what we want to do. But that's what we had to do early yesterday morning." 

"There was no ETA because there was no one available to even give an ETA," he said. 

"The individuals who are working on the street right now are working as hard as they can to make the system work. But obviously, organizationally and systemically, there is a challenge that the administration of AHS needs to be listening to," he said. 

"Because what's happening right now — frankly — is unacceptable." 

Dongworth said Monday he didn't have an update on the girl's condition — but he joined the fire crew as they reunited with the girl at a Calgary fire station on Tuesday. 

"We rarely get to connect with people after difficult calls. So it's very meaningful to us." 

A man with a beard and glasses holds a little girl wearing a red hat that says "junior fire chief." A man stands just behind the girl, he is wearing a pink button up shirt.
Rishi Agarwal, left, Tara Agarwal, centre, and Daniel Langdon, right, were visiting from Toronto. Tara had a medical emergency on the weekend and needed to be transported to the hospital in a fire truck. (Mike Symington/CBC)

The toddler, Tara Agarwal, and her parents, Rishi Agarwal and Daniel Langdon, were visiting from Toronto when the girl had a seizure and hit her head. 

The family called 911 — and that's when fire crews responded. 

"Our heart dropped a little when we heard that there were no EMS available … luckily there was someone trained in emergency medical services on the team," said Langdon.

"They told us the decision had been made to transport us in the fire truck. And I'm so glad that they did." 

Agarwal said he keeps thinking about what would have happened if they had needed to call for an ambulance and they were located less centrally — the family had recently been travelling around other parts of the province. 

"This could have happened anywhere in Alberta. Thank God it happened in Westmount and we were able to get to Alberta Children's," Agarwal said. 

"But what if it happened somewhere else?" 

He said the friend whom they were staying with told him the ambulance arrived about 15 minutes after they had left.

Tara and her parents will be taking a few days to recover with their family in Edmonton. 

AHS says EMS arrived after girl brought to hospital 

In a statement issued Sunday, a spokesperson for Alberta Health Services (AHS) said EMS responded after the fire department had already transported the girl to the children's hospital. 

In an updated statement Monday, AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said EMS arrived after the fire department made the decision to transport the child. 

A red and white van in front of a green building and a red sign which reads emergency.
A Calgary fire vehicle sits in the Alberta Children's Hospital parking lot Sunday. (Mike Symington/CBC)

"We know that waiting for an ambulance is difficult and stressful, and that this is exacerbated when a response time is longer than it should be," Williamson wrote in an email to CBC News. 

"In this instance, it took approximately twenty minutes for the ambulance to arrive following the first 911 call." 

Williamson said EMS is continuing to experience extremely high volumes, which is impacting response times. 

"EMS is reviewing this call further and reaching out directly to Chief Dongworth to discuss his concerns," Williamson said. 

Williamson added that AHS is doing all it can to alleviate pressure on EMS crews, including hiring more paramedics and adding ambulances in Calgary. 


Jade Markus

Digital journalist

Jade Markus is a digital journalist at CBC Calgary.

With files from Mike Symington and Dominika Lirette


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