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Edmonton firefighters to stop answering some 911 calls


Edmonton Fire Rescue Services respond to nearly 100,000 emergency calls every year, but most have nothing to do with fire.

On April 1, that's going to change.

Starting at the end of the month, EFRS plans to drop medical calls that are not "immediately life-threatening" or "time-critical."

In 2023, close to 70 per cent of the calls Edmonton firefighters responded to were medical calls.

EFRS chief Joe Zatylny claims leaving less-urgent medical matters to paramedics will improve firefighter's response times for people who need help the most.

"Something like a stomach ache, there will still be a response, and we will be there if EMS is not able to respond, but we need to focus on that 'down the street' when somebody needs us the most," Zatylny said.

Over the past five years, Edmonton firefighters have responded to medical calls voluntarily through an agreement with the province.

On March 18, EFRS presented Edmonton's Community and Public Services Committee a four-point plan to move away from many of those calls.

The plan includes changing the pre-alert process to eliminate unnecessary deployment, reducing calls to high-service locations like medical clinics and retirement homes where staff can assist patients while they wait for an ambulance, and revising lift-assist protocols to prioritize more emergency cases.

The fourth point is to amend that medical first response plan so firefighters are only responding to "truly life-threatening" medical calls.

"We anticipate that this would decrease the medical call volume by 31 per cent or almost 24,000 calls proportionally to total medical calls," EFRS assistant deputy chief Graham McAllister said on March 18.

"This would bring Edmonton in line with the medical service delivered by other fire services across major municipalities in Canada."

Most of the changes will come into effect May 1, while the lift-protocol adjustments will begin March 31.

The president of the union representing Edmonton firefighters said he's recommending the city not go ahead with the plan right now, due to worries over the community impact and a need for more engagement with firefighters.

With less than a week before changes are set to begin, one city councillor is also concerned things are moving too quickly and people may fall through the cracks.

"There was no time to put a stop to it," said Coun. Jo-Anne Wright. "We didn't even have an opportunity to requisition it up to council, because council's next meeting is April 3.

"So I do question the timing of things."

Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said the City of Edmonton has full authority over which calls firefighters respond to, and she believes AHS can handle the extra call load.

"(An) EMS ambulance attends every single 911 call that they are triaged to attend," LaGrange said. "I know that we've added additional dollars within our budget this year – $730 million that we're spending on EMS – to ensure that the capacity grows.

"And I can say that we have seen a 20 per cent increase in response times since 2022 in the Edmonton area for EMS ambulance response." Top Stories

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