Official Ambulance Service came into reality in Cold Lake in the fall of 1975 when the first ambulance was purchased. This was a result of a concerted effort on the part of Dr. Ezeji-Okoye and Mr. Alvin Edstrom, administrator of the John Neil Hospital, who petitioned the Municipalities to jointly purchase the first ambulance. Records indicate that the Municipalities contributed $2.50 per capita and the Service was to be administered by the Board of the John Neil Hospital.
The staffing of the first ambulance was accomplished with nurses from the hospital being recruited to act as attendants. Individuals with a class 4 driver’s license, advanced first aid and CPR were the drivers. Some of the first drivers were Mr. Alvin Edstrom, Mr. Roy Moon, Mr. Pete Wright, Mr. John Thornton and Mr. Dave Thomson to name but a few. These original drivers made many a fast trip to Edmonton and return in case the unit was required to respond again. This practice of manning the ambulance continued until about 1985 when Emergency Medical Technicians became the attendants. In the late 1970’s Mr. Robert Latty was hired full time to maintain the ambulance and to become one of its main drivers. He later became the Ambulance Boards first Director of Operations. It was about this time when the Board felt it necessary to increase the fleet by purchasing a second ambulance. The annual call volume had increased to approximately 300 calls and the second unit was purchased.
The mid 1980’s saw a major change in the structure of the ambulance Service. EMT’s became the attendants, three additional EMT’s were hired and the Service was now manned sixteen hours per day, five days a week, with other times having individuals on-call. 1986 saw the purchase of a third unit as our call volume had progressed to 450 calls per year. It also seen the closure of the John Neil Hospital and the move was made to the Cold Lake Regional Hospital. The Ambulance Board had contributed $225,000 to ensure office and garage space in the new Hospital.
In the early 1990’s a fifth full time EMT was hired due to increased call volume and we were now manned (partially) 24 hours per day Monday through Friday. The individual who worked the midnight shift was also holding down the job of receptionist for the Hospital. This system worked well for both Ambulance and Hospital but it was not without the occasional grumbling from the staff. It was during this period that the revenues generated were not equal to the operational costs and the Service was gradually losing monies each year. After the original $2.50 per capita to purchase the first unit no funding was received from the Municipalities with the exception of the Beaver River Health Board in Saskatchewan. This Board continues to provide a subsidy each year for providing ambulance services to the residents of Saskatchewan.
In 1994 the Board of the Cold Lake Hospital ceased to administer the affairs of the Ambulance Service. The ambulance Service applied to the Provincial government for a license to operate as a Society and on the 28 June 1994 the Cold Lake Ambulance Society came into being. The call volume had now increased to approximately 600 calls per year.
In 1998 the call volume had exceeded 700 calls and the Board felt that we should be providing 24 hours a day, seven days a week with staff in the hospital ready to respond. A sixth person was hired full time and from 1 April 1999 to 30 May 2000 a full time Service was in operation. It had been the hope of the Board that after presentations to the Municipalities that their financial support would ensure that we could continue to provide this service. Negotiations failed and the Ambulance Society was required to reduce its 24 hours a day, seven days a week service to a sixteen hours per day, five days a week service. It required the Board to lay-off one fulltime employee and the retirement of the Director of Operations left the Service with four fulltime employees. Mr. Jesse Carr was appointed as Director of Operations in May of 2000.
In 2000 there were four fulltime employees with approximately sixteen casual staff. In the year 2001 we responded to 875 calls. All staff must have a minimum training of an Emergency Medical Responder; all units must be manned with a minimum of one Emergency Medical Technician and an Emergency Medical Responder. Our EMT’s have received advanced skills in I.V. administration, cardiac monitoring, cardiac defibrillation, entonox administration, D50W administration and M.A.S.T. application. All EMT’s have received additional course in Basic Trauma Life Support and continue to upgrade their knowledge and skills, as courses become available.
In 2001 the Municipality of Bonnyville and the City of Cold Lake entered into a contract with the Ambulance Society to support and fund, as required, a sixteen hours a day, seven days a week Service. The Service purchased a fourth unit, which was added to the fleet thereby ensuring sufficient ambulances are available to cover foreseeable emergency situations.
In April 2003 the Board, with approval of the Municipalities, made a decision to up grade the Service to an ALS/BLS operation and the first paramedic was hired into a full time position on 1 July 2003. In February 2004 an EMT employed with the Ambulance Society completed his paramedic course and we have currently two paramedics employed with the Service. Three other EMT’s employed with the Society have or are in the process of enrolling in a paramedic program which bodes well for our future at an ALS level. It is worthy of note that we are now responding to just under 1000 calls per year.
A survey was carried out within the City of Cold Lake in June of 2003 requesting feedback into the level and type of ambulance service they would support. The results of the survey indicated, by an overwhelming majority, that the citizens of the community wanted a 24 hours per day coverage at the ALS/BLS level and they would be in favor of supporting it at a per capita level. The Society struck a target date of 1 April 2005 to be an ALS/BLS service staffed twenty-four hours per day, 365 days per year.
In April – May of 2004 Alberta Health & Wellness gave notification that on 1 April 2005 they would take over the governance and funding of ambulance Services in Alberta. On the 1st of March 2005 the Provincial government reversed their decision to take over the governance of ambulance services. The governance has remained with the Municipalities and as a consequence of this decision we are unable, once again, to advance to a twenty-four hour service.
The year 2004 saw the ambulance service break the 1,000 call mark for the first time having responded to 1,004 calls during the year. This marks another milestone in our history and is indicative the continuing growth of the area.
On 1 April 2005, Mr. Jesse Carr gave notice that he would be retiring on the 1 April 2006 as the Operations Manager of the Society. In November of 2005, the Cold Lake Ambulance Society approved the move to a 24 hour staffed service. With this move, staffing levels increased to 6 full time and three part time employees as well as approximately 20 casual employees.
With the changes, Cold Lake Ambulance offers ALS service over 95% of the time. In 2005, we responded to 1097 emergency calls.
Rod MacKenzie was the successful applicant and took over as Operations Manager from Jesse in January of 2006. His short tenure as Operations Manager saw the Cold Lake Ambulance Society’s number of calls swell from 1100 to 1300 in just one year. With that came the emphasis for more ALS members and equipment. To our dismay Rod was recruited by the Saskatoon Health Region in May of 2007 to manage ambulance services in that region.
The managerial torch was then past to Brad Lewis, former EMT instructor for Portage College, Lac La Biche. Under Brad’s leadership the Cold Lake Ambulance Society added a “Peak” time car to handle increased call volume and staffing shortages in addition to the already established one fulltime ALS car, and purchased a new ambulance. During this time we also saw another increase in the number of ALS members. As well, community organizations contributed to CLAS much in the way of monies in the quest for the latest and up to date medical equipment. In August 2008, Brad was recruited by CALA Environmental.
Left without a replacement for Brad, Jodie Schafers was appointed as interim manager until a new one could be recruited and as of January 1st 2009 Troy Manning became the EMS Chief of the Cold Lake Ambulance Society. We look to the future with keen anticipation as there are many changes on the horizon. Some of these include the adding of another fulltime car, coming under the umbrella of Alberta Health Services April 1, 2009, and the building of a new facility to house the Cold Lake Ambulance Society.
We are extremely proud of our history; proud of the many individuals who have and are serving as Board members and have given freely of their time; and thank the many staff members who have dedicated their time and expertise to ensure the best Ambulance Service possible. May we continue to grow and improve during the years ahead!!!