Editorial — Who should pay for first response?
Langley City’s resolution to the Union of B.C. Municipalities about the costs of first response is a welcome start to a long-overdue discussion.
The City seeks the support of other municipalities, in asking the provincial government to pay more towards the cost of sending firefighters out to medical emergencies. This has become the main duty of firefighters in most cities across B.C., with calls to actual fires or other emergencies such as hazardous spills far fewer in number.
The reason the province has a role to play is that the work firefighters are doing is actually that of a paramedic, albeit with less specialized training. The province has been able to save money on the ambulance service by having firefighters respond first.
In addition, firefighters are governed by different work rules, so four firefighters are routinely dispatched to a call where no more than two ambulance attendants would respond. This is a colossal waste of resources and is extremely costly to taxpayers.
The City is suggesting that the province contribute to the costs of fire departments in jurisdictions where firefighters are first responders. This is one possibility, but another is that the province establish more ambulance stations and hire more paramedics. A good look at all work rules surrounding paramedics would also be helpful, as often they are tied up at hospitals waiting for emergency staff to admit a patient they have transported there.
The point the City is making, and it’s one that most taxpayers would endorse, is that property taxes are being used to pay for health services. Health is a provincial responsibility and, as such, should be paid for by provincial governments.
Cities are hard-pressed for money already. They have a limited ability to levy taxes, and property taxes are already high enough. Fire departments, such as Langley Township’s, which have added full-time fire halls, require significant amounts of property tax to fund.
If more ambulance stations were built, which would be the ideal situation, some full-time fire halls could be shifted to paid on call — a system that is used in three of the seven Township fire halls today.
No matter what happens, the whole issue of who pays for first response needs a much closer look. It’s good the discussion is underway.