Icy conditions had ambulance crews stretched thin after receiving twice their normal call volume on Thursday.
Nicholas Thain, executive director of EMS operations for the south sector of Alberta Health Services, said a “Code Red” — or a lack of ambulances — was issued on Thursday morning after EMS received over 200 calls between 7 a.m. and noon, including 105 falls due to ice and snow.
Thain said EMS crews usually respond to around 100 incidents on an average morning.
“With the snowfall that came in this morning and disrupted a lot of people’s routines … that created a significant spike for us,” Thain said. “We’ve had more calls this morning for falls alone than we have on most mornings for all other calls.”
Thain said some 30-year veterans with AHS told him it was the busiest morning they had even seen.
A spokesperson with United Nurses Alberta said the slick conditions caused a backlog at Calgary hospitals on Thursday and there was an increased number of people presenting to injuries related to falling injuries.
In the event of a Code Red, Thain said ambulances from outside the city are often called in to assist. Thain said 45 additional units that don’t normally respond to 911 calls — including field trainers and leadership staff — were dispatched on Thursday to make resources available for patients.
The increased number of calls caused a delay in response times and Thain said some patients had to wait upwards of 20 minutes for an ambulance while the most urgent calls were dealt with first and all patient calls were responded to.
“Today was a unique event … and I would also like to say how proud I am of how quickly (EMS) were able to mobilize and provide the care that they do every day,” Thain said.
A “Code Red” might sound like a rare event, but the union boss for paramedics employed by AHS said Calgary is experiencing ambulance shortages on a regular basis.
Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, said in addition to “Code Reds,” another concern are “three-truck alert” situations and “orange alerts” when eight or fewer ambulances are available.
Warmer temperatures later in the day brought call volumes down but Thain said Calgarians still need to take extra precautions when walking on sidewalks, ramps and inclines.
Albert Health Services have issued list of fall-prevention tips and even suggest walking like a penguinto avoid injury on icy streets.
Find a path around the snow or ice when you can.
Walk slowly and take small steps.
Point your toes out slightly to make yourself more stable on icy paths.
Keep your head up and don’t lean forward.
Keep your hands out of your pockets to help keep your balance.