The town is taking a closer look at a proposal of the Cochrane EMS Crisis Citizens Action Group (CAG) to purchase a fire/paramedical response vehicle.
At council's Feb. 6 committee-of-the-whole meeting, CAG chair Brian Winter gave council an overview of their concerns, what has been accomplished to date, and a wish list that includes the emergency vehicle.
"We're looking for a vehicle that looks like an ambulance and is used to protect fire personnel at a large-scale event and also used on a smaller scale as a secure and warm environment for the citizens of Cochrane," Winter told council.
"This vehicle could be your safety net when AHS EMS is not available."
He estimated to council it would cost between $150,000 and $180,000 to purchase and could possibly utilize equipment already available at Cochrane Fire Services.
Stacey Loe, the town's executive director of Protective and Community Services, said she will bring back a report to council in about a month's time.
"I think there are many options and alternatives that the municipal can look at as far as how far they want to step in and what the costs and order of magnitude and impact it would have our fire response as well as to the cost of that service," said Loe. "Certainly, it will boil all the way down to our level of service policy as well."
Whether this responsibility should, or can, fall upon the shoulders of the town was one of the biggest stumbling blocks identified by council. Furthermore, should municipalities become involved in this capacity, will it discourage the province from following through on the action plan it has laid out over the past few months?
Winter says it's a problem that has existed since AHS took over EMS in 2009, and it's only getting worse. Before then, the town operated its own ambulance service in conjunction with Cochrane Fire Services.
"Just because the provincial government hasn't met their obligations doesn't mean Cochrane can't be a shining light and provide something for their citizens."
Mayor Jeff Genung says the mid-sized cities mayors' caucus is scheduled to meet with Alberta Health minister Jason Copping next week to discuss the same issues raised by CAG.
"We're sharing our concerns about exactly what you've outlined today about the hospital wait times, the flexing. I want my message to you, the community, and council to be, we're not just sitting back and letting this happen to us. We're doing what we can, and we're being active in participating with the province to try and activate some change. Because you're right, 10 years ago, we had a well-working first response team that was cross-trained around fire and paramedics, and I think we were a shining star in the province in that."
Mayor Jeff Genung said he is willing to discuss the idea of the emergency vehicle with Copping, as well as the possibility of the province participating in funding.
Winter says he was pleased with council's response.
"It's very positive that they're going to look into a response vehicle that will act as a safety net until AHS gets their stuff together to provide the proper care and to work on the three solutions: no flexing, no hospital wait times, and no non-emergency transfers. To me, it's a simple fix. We could start on that next week, but it is just a slow process."
CAG isn't putting all its eggs in one basket. Winter says they recently met virtually with RJ Sigurdson, parliamentary secretary for EMS reforms and Highwood MLA, to present similar ideas. A follow-up meeting is scheduled for March.
"He is working with a big organization, AHS, and it's moving at a snail's pace, so he told us to advocate as much as we can," says Winters.
This was the first advocacy since those discussions, and more are planned.