FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — BCEHS presented to the City of Fort St. John council during their August 28th meeting, providing a rundown on staffing levels for the North Peace.
Jonathan Brnjas, BCEHS Clinical Operations Manager for the Northeast District, gave the presentation and said recent changes are aimed at enticing those interested in a career in emergency medicine to join, including a bump in pay and covering the cost of training opportunities.
It’s part of a new strategy to recruit and retain paramedics, made possible through a new three-year collective agreement between the BCEHS union and the province, ratified this past February. An increase in shift premiums, a cost-of-living allowance, and improved benefits coverage are all part of the new deal.
Brnjas said they’re still looking for new hires and want to make sure they’re doing everything they can to improve service in remote and rural stations. The Northeast BCEHS provides ambulance services in the Peace all the way to the Northern Rockies and Atlin, which can be a challenge.
Fort St. John is a full-time station, says Brnjas, with paramedics no longer being paged to come to the station anymore. Wages have been brought up to exceed what’s offered in Alberta and resource industries, he added, to ensure paramedics aren’t drawn away to pursue higher wages in another province or in oil and gas.
“We had been losing a lot of qualified persons to industry,” said Brnjas. “And they are very close to parity with the first-class constable in the police service or a first-class firefighter. So, we’re really able to attract and retain staff.”
In particular, the service is looking for those with Class 4 driver’s licences and basic first aid, the BCEHS will cover all the costs for new recruits to become Emergency Medical Responders (EMRs).
Once someone is an EMR and has a full-time position, the next step is becoming a Primary Care Paramedic (PCP), another licence that BCEHS is happy to cover the costs for, and an unprecedented opportunity, says Brnjas.
“There’s never been a greater time for members of the community, if they’ve ever considered joining the ambulance service, to join,” said Brnjas. “Because not only is there meaningful work, a way to serve your community, good wages, but we’re also supporting you in every step of your development to be able to ultimately become a paramedic.”
Over the past 18 months, up to six Fort St. John residents have joined as drivers only but have gone on to become EMRS, with some employed full-time and some enrolled to start a PCP program next year, Brnjas added.
Fort St. John isn’t 100 percent staffed and currently sits at 85 percent capacity, but has shifted from 24 available full-time positions to 32. Brnjas expects they’ll be able to fill the remaining and has started a fourth round of provincial posting.
Two 24-hour ambulances currently serve the city, with call volumes of just under 2,400 calls in 2022 when looking solely at 911 responses.
Recruits also don’t have to leave the community to get the schooling to become an EMR, and a part-time PCP program is available in Dawson Creek. Local paramedics are in talks with Northern Lights College to create a PCP program for Fort St. John, said Brnjas.
“That’s very grassroots, and that’s the staff taking it upon themselves that they want it here,” Brnjas said. “So, I’m not sure where they are in those conversations with the various colleges that provide those programs.”
City council members said they’re more than happy to share the news that BCEHS is recruiting and expressed interest in taking a tour of local operations and if they could help with bringing a PCP program to Fort St. John.
Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative.