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'Every second counts': EMS dispatch returns to Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

A file photo of an ambulance. (Matt Marshall/CTV News Edmonton) A file photo of an ambulance. (Matt Marshall/CTV News Edmonton)
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Starting at noon Tuesday, dispatchers in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) will begin dispatching EMS calls again.

"The community is extremely excited and happy to have this back," said RMWB Mayor Sandy Bowman.

In 2020, RMWB was one of four municipally-run, contracted satellite dispatch sites Alberta Health Services (AHS) announced would be transitioned to one of three existing AHS dispatch centres.

"When I look back to when we started this 'fight' to get EMS back I did listen to some 911 calls," said Bowman.

"Listening to those calls was completely heartbreaking to see people suffering and not be able to get the correct information to our first responders to get to the locations," he added.

Despite efforts to fight AHS's decision, officials said the transition away from dispatching EMS calls in RMWB happened in 2021.

"After the transition we did recognize some issues," said Jody Butz, the regional fire chief.

While he couldn't provide numbers, Butz said they kept track of the issues, primarily delays that arose from a lack of local knowledge by dispatchers.

"Realistically, or logically, if you're not from or live and work in this region and or this community, you're relying on computer aided information to tell you where this certain landmark is," said Butz.

"So that's where our local knowledge, our local dispatchers who live and work in this region can quickly understand the direction and put our resources there," he added.

Butz said there are three dispatchers on shift at all times. They answer all 911 calls and dispatch fire and once again ambulance, while Butz said calls for RCMP will continue to get transferred to Edmonton.

AHS's Computer-Aided Dispatching (CAD) technology and telecommunications will be used at the RMWB's local 911 Emergency Communications Centre.

By using common technology AHS will be able to answer any overflow calls RMWB are unable to answer.

With local dispatchers once again handling local calls, Butz said ambulances will be dispatched "swiftly and accurately".

"In emergencies every second counts and our local expertise ensures a timely response," said Butz.

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