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News : Regional Emergency Services Provides Council Update
High River, AB, Canada, April 17, 2015 -- As emergency services are a critical aspect in having complete communities, Brenda Fenwick, executive director of the Foothills Regional Emergency Services Commission (FRESC), has been visiting councils throughout the Foothills to provide an update on the commission’s recent activities and goals.
"FRESC is a municipal commission," Fenwick said at the April 23 High River town council meeting. "We were formed in January 1, 1998 to provide governance structure (for) emergency medical services and 911 services for the communities. We currently serve a population of 129,903 across 26 municipalities, counties, MDs and towns."
Running from Banff right down to the Crowsnest Pass, FRESC answers 911 calls and provides fire dispatch services as well as peace officer monitoring and work place monitoring.
"We provide public relations and education regarding 911 services in our communities," she said. "We advocate for enhanced regional EMS services so we’re constantly working with Alberta Health Services (AHS) and our fire departments to ensure EMS is provided appropriately in our communities."
FRESC operates a call centre located in the Oilfields General Hospital in Black Diamond and has exceeded the National Fire Protection Association benchmark of answering 95 per cent of 911 calls within 15 seconds.
Fenwick reported the centre answers 98.6 per cent of calls in less than 15 seconds.
She explained how 911 calls are dealt with and transferred depending on the type of response needed.
"If you require police or RCMP, we transfer that to a centre in Red Deer and stay on the line until the connection is made then we release and let the police take care of it," she said.
For EMS response, the centre transfers the call to EMS dispatch in the City of Calgary, which took over responsibility for dispatching ambulances in 2009. However, FRESC stays on the line until the caller has "articulated the address and the call-taker understands where that address is."
As FRESC staff are locals, they are more familiar with addresses, road names and landmarks, Fenwick said.
"We also stay on and monitor to determine if a Fire First Response is required or a co-response by (other) fire departments," she said. "If fire is not required then we drop off and let EMS take over."
She continued, "If it is a fire call, we’re responsible for that so we retain the call. We dispatch the fire department respectively and then follow that fire department right through until the call is complete – providing them with assistance, marking all of their times and if they need additional resources."
In 2013, call volumes spiked to 35,700 from 34,453 due to the southern Alberta floods, during which the call centre managed more than 500 calls in 12 hours, Fenwick said.
"Our typical call volume on any given day, in a 24-hour period, is approximately 90 to 100," she said.
FRESC is now working with the province of Alberta to develop a set of standards regarding training, benchmarking, 911 call management, facility operations as well as business continuity plans.
This year, the commission will focus on enhancing peace officer monitoring and dispatch, revitalizing its marketing and public education program as well as implementing its Alberta First Responder Radio Communications System (AFRRCS) – "a new two-way radio network for first responders in municipal, provincial and First Nations agencies" in Alberta.
The most major project for 2015, Fenwick said, is establishing the regional emergency warning system.
"The Town of High River is very familiar with that and we’re actually modelling a lot of what we’re doing after what (High River) has done," she said. "Our goal is to have a regional warning system that will cover all nine partner municipalities with no borders. In a large event, it will be much more efficient."
In regards to improving the EMS response in rural southern Alberta, Fenwick said it’s important for municipalities to push for improvements and avoid complacency.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Tuesday, April 21, 2015