Ambulance out of service levels which usually occur during  the summer months in the Kootenays are being reported in March.

The Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of BC’s Union President Cameron Eby says workers aren’t given consistent work or pay.

Instead, ambulance workers must submit their availability before receiving their schedule but paid work isn’t promised to them.

So less staff are reporting in.

“The amount of availability that’s submitted by people goes down in the summer because they’re out doing other things. To see out of service issues popping up right now to this extent is very troubling.”

Eby illustrates how the service began in rural communities and how the current model fails to keep up with present-day demand.

“It’s born kind of out of a volunteer system. Somebody that wants to help out the community, maybe they work at the mill and they want to be a first responder in their community much like a volunteer fire department. But it’s progressed over the decades into a much higher profession than that but the staffing model hasn’t evolved with it.”

In order to draw in and keep community first responders, the ambulance service used to provide paid Primary Care level paramedic training. It’s the avenue Eby himself took.

“In the early to mid 2000’s the paid training for paramedics was taken away by the government of that time. So if shifted to more of a conventional career where if you wanted to be a paramedic, you had to go and get your prerequisites.”

According to Eby, the financial and time commitment leaves potential workers in a less than desirable position by the end of their studies.

“To then come out and not have a dependable job, it just doesn’t work.”

Another factor that plays into the level of care provided in rural communities is the level of education. Eby says smaller communities are relying on Emergency Medical Responder (EMR) levels for paramedics.

“That’s below what we consider to be the minimum standard and that involves about a three month course.”

Eby says he believes the baseline should be the Primary Care level for paramedics, which is a year long course in B.C.

The Primary Care level wage starts at roughly $65 thousand a year for full time work, four days on and four days off with 20 shifts a year dedicated towards paid vacation.

For what Eby calls ‘full-time-part-timers’ in rural communities who make themselves available for every single day of the year, they can make up to $50 thousand.

According to Eby, many paramedics simply choose to  move to Alberta for full-time work and with better pay in the same field.