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AHS memo tells Edmonton EMS to respect speed limit

A leaked memo from Edmonton's EMS director says ambulance drivers must adhere to posted limits - even when responding to calls with lights and sirens.<br /><span style="font-size: 12pt;font-family: Verdana"></span>

It appears the brakes could be put on Edmonton ambulances speeding to emergency calls, according to information obtained by Metro.

An internal memo leaked to Metro Edmonton provides direction to Metro Edmonton EMS staff requiring them to respond to all calls within the posted speed limit and reminding them to come to a complete stop at every red light.

The memo, written by Dale Weiss, director of Edmonton/North Zone Metro Operations for Alberta Health Services, was dated Dec. 22 and states that staff “are to respond within the posted speed limits, even when responding with lights and siren.”

When it comes to red lights, EMS vehicles can proceed through an intersection, but only after coming to a complete stop, which is standard procedure – according to sources.

Weiss receives a monthly spreadsheet of EMS vehicles that have triggered the red light cameras in Edmonton, according to the document. In October, the document states, there were 232 occurrences with speeds as high as 109 kilometres per hour and red light durations of 60 seconds.

Weiss states in the memo that safety is the reason for the reinforcement of expectations.

“This issue is of great concern to me and you, as lives are at risk,” Weiss said in the memo. “There are no ambulance designs that will protect you totally in the event of a collision.”

Weiss declined to comment when asked, adding that AHS will likely make an announcement regarding the issue for the Edmonton area and any others that may be affected in the province.

Kerry Williamson, senior communications officer with Alberta Health Services for the Edmonton area, said that the initiative seems to be for Edmonton EMS staff only.

“My understanding is it sounds like it’s just an Edmonton thing,” Williamson said.

An EMS worker in a rural jurisdiction outside of Edmonton not overseen by AHS said he was discussing the new regulations with co-workers and they find them to be “crazy.”?
“If I’m an Edmonton crew and I’m transporting (a patient in cardiac arrest) to the hospital, I don’t want to be sitting at a red light with my lights going,” said the worker, who asked not to be identified.

An AHS spokesperson tells a slightly different story on the adherence to speed limits by EMS personnel.

“EMS staff are encouraged to stay within the posted speed limit as much as possible,” said Sheila Rougeau, EMS spokesperson for Alberta Health Services.

Rougeau said that while the Edmonton memo was written with good intentions, emergency vehicles are actually allowed to accelerate under certain circumstances.?
Under the Traffic Safety Act emergency vehicles’ speeds may be elevated when responding to a call with lights and sirens, said Rougeau. With extreme consideration and caution, she continued, speed may be accelerated in extenuating circumstances.?
A number of things need to be taken into consideration, such as the nature of the call, traffic congestion, pedestrian congestion and the weather, said Rougeau.

Stuart Brideaux, AHS spokesperson for the Calgary / South zone, said he had only just become aware of the document, but added it appears everything will remain “status quo” regarding ambulance service in Calgary.?

"We do have some policies in place not contained in the Alberta Traffic Safety Act, but they are mostly common sense,” he said. “We have had some challenges with regards to urban response compared to rural response.”

- with files from Jeremy Nolais - Metro Calgary

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