By DAVID JUDD
Ambulances will continue to go to fires in homes and other buildings in Norfolk County.
Mayor Dennis Travale recently asked why an ambulance was dispatched to a fire in an old tobacco kiln, which only housed a potato harvester.
Councillors got their answer last Tuesday, March 5, in a five-page report from staff, plus a 10-minute presentation by Delhi District Fire Chief Max Adam, who was supported by nearly two dozen uniformed Norfolk fire chiefs and their deputies watching from their seats in the council chamber in Simcoe.
Ambulances attend fires in case of emergencies involving citizens and they’re at fires to help firefighters, too.
Chief Adam said one of his biggest scares as a firefighter came when a burning bulk tobacco kiln turned over.
Under provincial rules, ambulances are automatically dispatched to reports of fires in buildings.
The exception is if it’s definitely known that no one is injured.
Even then, an ambulance is dispatched if one is available.
In 2012, Norfolk ambulances responded to 44 calls involving fires in buildings.
Of these, 38 calls were emergencies. In six calls, ambulances were sent on standby.
Eight patients were taken to hospital and seven people were treated at the scene.
Often details are sketchy when calls come in, Chief Adam said, and sending an ambulance right away can save much time.
In rural areas, firefighters might take 15 or 20 minutes to get to a fire or even 30 to 40 minutes in bad weather.
Assessing the fire scene might take 10 minutes.
If firefighters wait until then to call an ambulance, it might take another several minutes before an ambulance arrives.
Firefighters feel more comfortable at a fire when they know an ambulance is at the scene or on the way, Chief Adam said.
Emergency personnel not only look after civilians but also firefighters who encounter medical problems.
The Ministry of Labour recommends having an ambulance on scene for firefighters.
Chief Adam said no Norfolk firefighter has sustained serious injury at a fire in recent years.
But if there’s an incident because the county didn’t want to spend the gas for an ambulance, “somebody will have to answer,” he said.
Ambulances are released from fire scenes as soon as it’s determined they’re not needed, Chief Adam said.
And they can be dispatched elsewhere if there’s a greater emergency.
Not sending ambulances to structure fires would save little money, Darwin Rouse, Norfolk’s EMS manager and land ambulance director, told councillors.
Emergency personnel are paid whether they go to fires or not.
The only savings would be for gasoline and for wear and tear on vehicles, Mr. Rouse said.
Haldimand, Oxford, Brant and Middlesex counties dispatch ambulances to structure fires, he added.
The county should not look for savings on sending ambulances to structure fires, Port Dover Coun. John Wells said.
If something happened to a firefighter, Norfolk County would find itself in a legal situation, he said.
Mayor Travale assured firefighters that county council would do nothing to put their safety in danger.