Firefighters brought injured toddler to hospital due to lack of ambulances, says Calgary fire chief

Calgary’s fire chief is pointing to an “unacceptable” system failure after firefighters had to resort to bringing a toddler to the hospital in a fire truck this weekend. 

Just after midnight on Sunday, firefighters received a call that a three-year-old girl had fallen and hit the back of her head, said Calgary Fire Chief Steve Dongworth. 

He says firefighters brought the girl to Alberta Children’s Hospital, in part, because there were no ambulances available. He says the girl was vomiting and having convulsions. 

“We have a process now because this isn’t the first time … there’s a number we call where we can talk to a physician,” he said. That doctor recommended the toddler be brought to the children’s hospital immediately. 

A man wearing a blue and gold uniform stands in front of a yellow crane.
Calgary Fire Chief Steve Dongworth speaks to reporters Monday. He said close to midnight on Sunday a 3-year-old fell and hit her head. (Mike Symington/CBC )

Dongworth said he believes the crew provided “excellent medical care,” especially as there was an EMT on board, but said fire trucks aren’t set up to transport injured people. 

“That’s not their purpose,” he said. 

“It’s not what we normally do. It’s not what we want to do. But that’s what we had to do early yesterday morning.” 

Dongworth said as far as he’s aware there were no ambulances available in the City of Calgary. 

“There was no ETA because there was no one available to even give an ETA,” he said. 

A red and white van in front of a green building and a red sign which reads emergency.
A Calgary fire vehicle sits in the Alberta Children’s Hospital parking lot Sunday. (Mike Symington/CBC)

“The individuals who are working on the street right now are working as hard as they can to make the system work. But obviously, organizationally and systemically, there is a challenge that the administration of AHS needs to be listening to,” he said. 

“Because what’s happening right now — frankly — is unacceptable.” 

Dongworth said he doesn’t have an update on the girl’s condition.

AHS says EMS arrived after girl brought to hospital 

In a statement issued Sunday, a spokesperson for Alberta Health Services (AHS) said EMS responded after the fire department had already transported the girl to the children’s hospital. 

In an updated statement Monday, AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said EMS arrived exactly one minute after the fire department made the decision to transport the child. 

“We know that waiting for an ambulance is difficult and stressful, and that this is exacerbated when a response time is longer than it should be,” Williamson wrote in an email to CBC News. 

“In this instance, it took approximately twenty minutes for the ambulance to arrive following the first 911 call.” 

Williamson said EMS is continuing to experience extremely high volumes, which is impacting response times. 

“EMS is reviewing this call further and reaching out directly to Chief Dongworth to discuss his concerns,” Williamson said. 

Williamson added that AHS is doing all it can to alleviate pressure on EMS crews, including hiring more paramedics and adding ambulances in Calgary. 

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