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Mayor calls for change after B.C. baby dies while waiting for ambulance

The mayor of a small community in B.C.'s Interior is calling for flexibility around which first responders are allowed to take patients to hospital after an infant died while waiting for an ambulance.

Mayor Ward Stamer said his community of Barriere has a first responders' society with a vehicle that can respond when the BC Ambulance Service can't, but they're not allowed to transport patients to hospital.

He said that has to change as the community grapples with gaps in service that mean first responders might not be available when someone calls 911.

On Sunday, Stamer told CTV News that the family is Indigenous and the baby was eight-months-old. He also said local officials aren't regularly informed of ambulance staffing issues, and stressed that he didn't want to speculate on whether the response time was a factor in the child's death.

There's normally one ambulance in Barriere and two in Clearwater, about 60 kilometres north, but they're shared throughout the region, Stamer said.

“From what I understand, there was only one car for all of Kamloops on that Thursday night, and that is why ours was taken from us,” he said.

The service does not tell the local government when the ambulance that's based in Barriere is being diverted elsewhere until afterwards, Stamer said.

The president of the union representing B.C. paramedics told CTV News Sunday that the call came in Thursday night about an infant in cardiac arrest in the District of Barriere, about a 45-minute drive north of Kamloops.

Troy Clifford described the situation as the "worst case scenario." He said the ambulance that would typically have been serving the district was in Kamloops instead, helping to cover a staff shortage there.

“I’m not sure of the exact location, but I understand they were in the vicinity of Kamloops when the call came in,” Clifford said. “That’s absolutely tragic in this situation that we didn’t have an ambulance available for somebody in their time of need.”


Stamer also described a situation about two weeks ago, when a woman in Barriere had a stroke when the ambulance service wasn't immediately available. The woman's daughter was pulled over by the RCMP for speeding while taking her mother to hospital in Kamloops, about 66 kilometres away, and the Mounties ended up escorting them, he said.

“We've all got stories like that,” he said of rural communities across B.C.

On two recent occasions, residents of Ashcroft, B.C. – another small town in the Interior – have died while waiting for ambulance service.


On Aug. 14, a man went into cardiac arrest just 200 metres away from that community's ambulance station, but the nearest staffed ambulance didn't arrive for 29 minutes, according to Ashcroft Mayor Barbara Roden. The man did not survive. 


Four weeks before that incident, an Ashcroft senior died after going into cardiac arrest at a time when the local emergency room was closed due to staffing shortages, and an available ambulance was in another community. Stamer said there's a “higher level of anxiety” in Barriere as residents don't know what level of ambulance service might be available on a given day.

“Should we be getting our residents prepared, like an evacuation alert, so you've got a full tank of gas so you can throw somebody in the pickup and take them to town? That's kind of where we're at sometimes,” he said.

Stamer said he and other mayors from communities in B.C.'s Interior are talking about coming together at the Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting next month to try to catch the ears of provincial authorities.

“We're not trying to point fingers here and we're not blaming anybody,” he said. “We just want to be able to sit down and see if we can have a constructive meeting, to see if we can come up to some short-term solutions to the problems that we're all facing in these communities.”

BC Emergency Health Services said it's reviewing the circumstances of the “heartbreaking loss.”

It said the closest available ambulance was immediately dispatched, while local firefighters were also called to assist with the call. However, Stamer noted firefighters are not currently allowed to transport patients.

A statement from BC Emergency Health Services said its “deepest condolences go out to the family and the community.”

With files from CTV News Vancouver Top Stories

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