Not often is anything really surprising heard during the routine reports at Hay River town council.

Usually, the town directors — for finance, protective services, recreation and public works — update council on what’s been happening in their bailiwicks, and the senior administrative officer provides an overview.

The reports are informative, but a generally run-of-the-mill process to keep council and the community up to date on municipal matters.

However, every once in a while, council and the community will hear something that makes ears perk up.

Such was the case on Feb. 1 when Ross Potter, the town’s director of protective services and its fire chief, reported there had been 66 ambulance calls during January.

That number is not in any way routine. It means that the town’s ambulance service answered, on average, more than two calls a day during the month.

A total of 66 calls in January was a big increase from the previous record number of calls for the month over the past five years — 40 in January 2019. There were just 25 ambulance calls in January 2017.

The ambulance service is part of the Hay River Fire Department. About half of the 32 volunteer firefighters are also fully trained to respond with the ambulance service.

However, most of the calls are answered by a core group of about 10 people.

Potter said there is a concern that, if the ambulance service remains so busy, it will be awfully hard on the responders.

That is certainly an understandable concern.

While the volunteers are paid for each ambulance call, it seems that 66 calls a month is an unsustainable number for volunteer responders who have full-time jobs, families and lives away from the fire department.

No one should reasonably require them to answer calls so often, including on weekends and after hours. In fact, 84 per cent of the calls in January were after hours or on weekends. It also seems safe to assume that some of those calls were in the early hours of the morning.

That just seems a recipe for people to leave the ambulance service.

Of course, a community needs an ambulance service. So what can be done if the high number of calls persists, and the January number is not some kind of statistical anomaly?

Well, it may be time for the Town of Hay River to think about a full-time crew, at least for one of its two ambulances.

That would reduce the strain on volunteers. It would also make the ambulance response more prompt.

You would think that a full-time ambulance service might be able to pay for itself. After all, the town earned about $66,000 in revenue from the 66 ambulance calls in January.

So if the exceptionally high number of calls persists, the town may have to consider a full-time ambulance crew just to make sure that the service remains and is not threatened by demanding too much of volunteers.

It goes without saying that hiring more full-time employees is not something the town would want to do.

However, if the number of ambulance calls continues to average anywhere near two a day, it might be something that the town will be forced to consider.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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