Ambulance dispatch gearing for switch

The service is slated to transfer to Kenora next month but local residents are making 11th-hour pleas to keep the ambulance dispatch here.
Devlin resident Lee Ann Arden wondered if, in an emergency situation, people would be calm enough to give an ambulance dispatcher, unfamiliar with the area, clear directions to their home?
It’s a question that hits close to home for Arden. One morning in January, an injured snowmobiler was pounding at her door at 5 a.m. He had crawled to get help for himself and an injured passenger back at the scene of the accident.
Arden’s husband called for an ambulance. Finding their home was easy, she said, because it was on the road. But giving directions to the accident site–three-quarters of a mile across a field near the edge of the bush–would have been harder.
Fortunately, the person on the other end of the line knew the area and was able to direct the ambulance to the accident site.
“Time was of the essence that morning,” Arden stressed, adding she didn’t know if they would’ve been able to give proper directions in such a stressful situation.
A local ambulance attendant shared Arden’s concerns. The attendant, who asked not to be identified, said they relied on the dispatchers to help them get to the locations–especially ones in remote areas.
“I don’t think this is going to work very well,” echoed NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton, noting there was a very large rural area west of Fort Frances the dispatchers in Kenora would have to know.
And he feared if two roads shared the same name, but were in different towns, the ambulance might be dispatched to the wrong community.
But Craig Marek, manager of the Kenora dispatch centre, assured the public wouldn’t notice any change in service with the move. He said the first question those calling for an ambulance were asked was for which town.
If the caller was unable to say, or if there was some confusion, he noted the dispatcher could refer back to the 9-1-1 service for specifics. He admitted they would rely on the caller for directions to remote areas.
“Failing that, we would use the OPP or other resources,” he said, adding the equipment allowed for the caller to be patched right through to the ambulance crews.
“You have to obtain the best information you can from the caller.”
In many dispatch centres, Marek said the dispatchers don’t have first-hand knowledge of the area. He also noted Kenora already has taken over ambulance dispatch for Dryden (Dec. 12) and Sioux Lookout (Jan. 12).
Overall, he felt this transition would be smooth, with training continuing on equipment and orientation. He stressed they were working very closely with the ambulance managers in each community to learn the mapping, which he felt was extremely comprehensive.
When it does switch over, Marek said they would double dispatch staff in Kenora to four until they were confident everything was working properly.
As for the official date the ambulance dispatch will move from here, Marek said that was being determined this week.
“There’s no need to rush. We want to make sure everything is right on the money before we say [a date],” he added.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health assured last week it has no plans to “download” the ambulance dispatch service onto municipalities.
“The ministry is keeping the dispatching for both land and air ambulance,” noted Lily Weedon, with the ministry’s communications department.
“Only the land ambulance operations themselves have gone to municipalities.”