Calls for emergency services increasing on Gabriola

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, March 18 2020

Gabriola RCMP and BC Emergency Health Services continued to see an increase in calls for service in 2019; while the Gabriola Volunteer Fire Department saw a drop in calls compared to 2018.

Even though, according to the Statistics Canada numbers, the population of Gabriola has stayed around 4,000 for the past decade.

Gabriola RCMP have saw call volume more than double between 2017 (417) and 2018 (853), and in 2019, members received 930 calls for service.

Cst. Patti Evans, Acting Detachment Commander for Gabriola RCMP, said that increase in call volume isn’t slowing down either. 

As of February 22, there had already been 141 calls for service, putting the detachment on track to break over 1,000 callouts.

Evans said, “This is a massive increase for us in terms of call volume.” 

While there has been a huge increase in volume, Gabriola is still a three-person detachment.

In terms of increasing the number of members, Evans said as with Gabriola being a provincially funded detachment, “we have to be aware of the fiscal restraints imposed upon us by the province and work within those restrictions, while still providing the best service to the community. Gabriola is different from Nanaimo or other municipally funded detachments, in that the money for policing comes directly from the provincial budget and we can’t negotiate with our local government for another position.” She said at present, there is no plan to add a fourth member, however these types of decisions are revisited regularly, and are dependent on an increase of call volume, population, community consultation, and other factors.

BC Ambulance Service on Gabriola is also seeing increases in call volume, year over year. Shannon Miller, representative with BC Emergency Health Services provided the statistics for the last five years, saying for 2019, very few calls on Gabriola were immediately life threatening: one per cent. The bulk of the medical emergency calls were urgent or potentially life threatening (30 per cent) or non-urgent, not serious (48 per cent).

2019: 659  |  2018: 626

2017: 578  |  2016: 514

2015: 526.

Miller said the numbers reflect call-outs for service, rather than patient numbers - as some calls (such as a motor vehicle incident) could involve multiple patients in a single call-out.

Jacqui Briad, BC EHS Unit Chief for the Gabriola station said, “The annual call volume has steadily been increasing  over the past few years. It is difficult to determine the different factors that could account for this increase. Population growth and more services on island might play a part. 

“The Gabriola Medical Clinic  and on-call physicians have played a major role in treating patients on island. 

“BC EHS has been implementing different programs including the Community Paramedics and Paramedic Specialists to help decrease the number of 911 calls and trips to the emergency departments. 

“So although the numbers show an increase I think there has been an improvement in providing on island care.”

Out of the 659 call-outs received in 2019, BC EHS had 280 calls flagged as potentially requiring First Responders from the Gabriola Volunteer Fire Department (GVFD). The GVFD responded to 248 medical/First Responder calls in 2019.

Miller said BCEHS notifies first responders of certain calls; but does not always dispatch firefighters to calls.

“This would explain why our number (280 calls) is higher than how many calls firefighters actually responded to [247]. BCEHS tracks notifications.”

Miller said BCEHS notifies firefighters for particular calls:

- all life-threatening and serious, time-critical calls.

- firefighters are also being notified of all moderately-urgent calls they normally attend, unless BC EHS have an ambulance nearby that would arrive at roughly the same time (approx. 10 minutes, including call-processing time).

Miller said, “Fire departments are also notified of all vehicle crashes, hazardous materials sites, fire related calls, drowning / near drowning incidents and other calls where their assistance is needed. We do not notify firefighters of every call - if they are responding to a patient with a non-urgent condition, they could be tied up when we need them to respond to a life-threatening call.”

Call outs for the GVFD for 2019 was 402.

2018: 454  |  2017: 375

2016: 492 |  2015: 403 

2015 was the first year the department received over 400 total calls for service. So far, to the end of February, there have been 73 call outs in 2020 for Gabriola Fire.

Fire Chief Will Sprogis pointed to a relatively wet 2019 as part of the reason Gabriola Fire saw fewer calls last year. He said First Responder (medical) calls were up, which is to be expected with an aging population on Gabriola. Motor vehicle incidents were up by two - Sprogis pointed out the number of incidents at the intersection of Barrett and North Road.

“We would like to eliminate all accidents at that corner.”

For Gabriola Fire though, the decreases in fewer fires, and fewer burn complaints, led to the decrease in calls.

2019 was the second year the department had a seasonal burn ban in place. Sprogis said the plan is to again put a seasonal ban in place this year.

“As a whole, we’re always hoping that prevention is working. We just got a letter this morning from the Fire Chief’s Association about a program to give smaller communities the ability to promote the combination smoke and CO [Carbon Monoxide] detectors.”