Alexis Coughlan of Abbotsford is questioning why the paramedics took so long and why the firefighters from down the street were not dispatched when her two-year-old son Milo was having a seizure. (Submitted photo)

Alexis Coughlan of Abbotsford is questioning why the paramedics took so long and why the firefighters from down the street were not dispatched when her two-year-old son Milo was having a seizure. (Submitted photo)

With a firehall down the street, B.C. mom questions response time for son’s seizure

Alexis Coughlan wonders why firefighters just down the street weren’t called before paramedics

Two-year-old Milo Coughlan woke up from his Sunday nap looking groggy.

Half an hour later, Milo was shaking on the couch. His complexion turned completely pale and his lips turned blue.

He soon became unresponsive to his mother’s voice.

“He was completely limp. He just wasn’t arousing at all,” said Milo’s mother, Alexis Coughlan.

Twelve minutes passed until the paramedics arrived to assist the toddler, who had a seizure.

For Coughlan, 12 minutes felt eternal. She questions why the paramedics took so long and why the firefighters from down the street were not dispatched.

BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) told The Abbotsford News that Coughlan’s call did not qualify for a fire-first responder notification.

“There was absolutely no delay in response on this call,” said BCEHS spokesperson Shannon Miller.

Coughlan said she is frustrated that her son’s condition did not qualify for firefighters to arrive on scene.

“What’s the point of full-time firefighters in the city for emergencies?” she said. “There’s a hall around the corner. They would have been here in two minutes able to provide some sort of medical help.”

As of May 30, 2018, BCEHS has updated the Clinical Response Model system for how it assigns paramedics, ambulances and other resources to 911 calls using a colour-coding system.

RELATED: Dispatch firefighters to more medical calls, urge Metro Vancouver mayors

BCEHS said firefighters are only notified of medical emergency calls when the code is red or purple for immediate life-threatening calls.

Milo’s case was coded orange, meaning urgent but not an immediately life-threatening condition such as abdominal pain. BCEHS said notifying firefighters to attend code-orange calls depends on many varying factors.

“In rural and remote communities, paramedics can take longer to reach patients and sometimes where there are longer response times firefighters are notified,” Miller said.

The pandemic has also reduced the number of lower acuity calls that firefighters can attend to reduce the risk of infection. For privacy reasons, BCEHS did not clarify specific details of why Milo’s case was coded as orange.

Coughlan is a nurse and her husband is an on-call firefighter. Despite both being medical professionals, Coughlan said having support from firefighters could have eased their anxiety.

“It was actually traumatizing to see your child like that, and to just be waiting and waiting for help, not knowing when it was going to get here.”

The B.C. Office of the Auditor General released a 2019 report on access to emergency services which found that BCEHS didn’t consistently meet its targets for timely quality care.

Ambulances met their nine-minute target time for the most serious emergencies in urban areas only 50 per cent of the time, according to the report. The report added that BCEHS needs to work more closely with fire departments to improve patient care.

Kirk Holt, vice president of the Abbotsford Fire Fighters Association, said it’s obvious that the paramedics are ultimately needed. However, firefighters often get to the scene first and can provide families peace of mind while paramedics are en route.

Knowing that truck is right down the road, and firefighters have a basic level of equipment and training, “at the very least, we can assess the situation, and give them (paramedics) a better idea of what’s going on and … upgrade the call so they can get there quicker,” Holt said.

There has also been ongoing debate on whether firefighters should get additional training – including Emergency Medical Responder (EMR) training – to allow them to administer more medical aid to patients in emergency situations. For example, with EMR training, firefighters can give Aspirin to patients with cardiac conditions; measure pulse, blood pressure, oxygen and glucose levels; and provide other initial emergency care.

RELATED: Patient care first: Why B.C. firefighters are calling for more medical training

In a recent letter to Health Minister Adrian Dix, a group of 11 Metro Vancouver mayors said they are supporting EMR training and are “extremely concerned” about the impacts of staffing shortages at the provincial ambulance service.

However, some advocates say B.C. should focus on the core issues paramedics are facing rather than more medical training for firefighters.

The letter to the health minister includes how 30 of the 120 ambulances across the Lower Mainland were unstaffed – a challenge further exacerbated by COVID-19 and the opioid crisis, according to the Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of B.C.

Union president (CUPE 873) Troy Clifford said paramedics in B.C. are not meeting the national threshold of prompt response times because they are continuously challenged by staffing shortages, recruitment struggles, and low wages.

“We need to really change the model of getting into this profession long term, so that people can have a meaningful life, balance of earnings and benefits, and not have to sacrifice everything to work in the profession,” he said.

Clifford said understaffing continues to be a large hindrance to response times.

“I think it’s just tough for us. The paramedics take the impacts on patients and the public very seriously. When they’re delayed, it really, really affects them,” he said.

In response, BCEHS said they have added close to 150 permanent paramedic positions throughout the province during the pandemic and are adding more positions in the weeks and months ahead that will increase stability in their staffing.

Coughlan said she is also aware of the challenges many paramedics face and hopes to shed light on the flaws in the system to prevent this from happening to others.

“What we need to do is make awareness that we are not going to be getting the care that we need, but it’s not the fault of paramedics, it’s not the fault of the fire department,” she said.

“It’s coming down to funding and the nitty gritty of it all behind that.”

Emergency callsHealthcare

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. wineries are open for indoor tasting despite new provincial health regulations. Photo- 
50th Parallel Winery, Instagram.
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

Mainly clear and sunny skies are expected for the Okanagan-Shuswap region this week. (Maxpixels photo)
Warm, sunny week ahead in Okanagan-Shuswap

Daytime highs will reach the low 20s with mainly clear skies this week

File photo
Trip for cigarettes costs Princeton man $500 and a lecture

You’ve got to start obeying the rules of the road, says judge

The health authority will occupy the building until October 31, 2021. File Photo
Health authority pays town $7.4K monthly to lease Riverside Centre

Facility is being rented for COVID vaccinations

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s mass vaccination program will be delivered to Princeton residents from a clinic set up at the Riverside Community Centre. (Darryl Dyck/CP photo)
COVID vaccinations bookings began for local residents last week

Riverside serves as Princeton’s appointment centre

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

The Red Pill Rapper performs to the crowd gathered for the Rally For Food Security at Blackburn Park on Saturday, April 10, 2021. (Kristal Burgess Photography)
The Red Pill Rapper performs to the crowd gathered for the Rally For Food Security at Blackburn Park on Saturday, April 10, 2021. (Kristal Burgess Photography)
Suspicion of ‘fake news media’ makes rally uncomfortable for Salmon Arm event photographer

More than 300 people counted at city park for ‘Rally For Food Security’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

The former Summerland Asset Development Initiative building on Prairie Valley Road in Summerland was suggested as the site for a temporary transitional housing facility for the community. However, Summerland council has rejected this proposal. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Summerland council rejects transitional housing facility

Concerns raised about short timeline and condition of municipally-owned building

Shayla, an 8-pound black and grey Havanese, was stolen from outside a store on Banks Road on Saturday. (Contributed)
Stolen pup located, Kelowna RCMP confirms

Mounties said on April 12 that Shayla, the 8-pound, black and grey Havanese dog, has been located safe and sound

Penticton Vees continue their winning streak carrying a 5-0 win title as of Sunday night's hockey action. (Cherie Morgan/Cherie Morgan Photography)
Penticton Vees continue winning streak

Sunday night’s 6-1 win has them with five in a row since the start of the season

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Most Read