Resident wants county to consider four-wheel drive ambulances
By Robert Mackenzie
Published Sept. 7, 2017
Gwen Bryant was picking up her friend Nancy Cook for an afternoon of shopping and appointments in Haliburton village this past January when she found her sprawled on the ground at the bottom of her steps.
It’s assumed that Nancy, who was 91 years old, was sweeping off her front steps when she fell down the stairs, hitting her head and breaking both her wrists in the process.
Gwen quickly called 911 and her son Tim, who lived nearby Nancy’s home on Bat Lake Road. According to Gwen and Tim, when the ambulance came it backed into a snowbank and got stuck in Nancy’s driveway. When Tim went to help set the truck free, he learned that it was equipped with rear-wheel drive. “I’m amazed that up here it isn’t four-wheel drive,” he said.
Both Gwen and Tim said the ambulance getting stuck didn’t end up having an impact on Nancy’s life. By the time the first responders treated Nancy and got her ready to load into the ambulance, Tim, firefighters and other workers who arrived on scene were able to free the vehicle from the snowbank. After being taken to hospitals in Minden, Lindsay and Toronto, Nancy eventually died from her head injury.
“It wouldn’t have saved my mother ... but it could save someone else,” said Nancy’s son Alan. After learning that the ambulances in Haliburton were only equipped with rear-wheel drive, Alan thinks there needs to be a change. “Having a two-wheel drive ambulance in a place that gets four feet of snow or more isn’t going to help,” he said.
“If I didn’t live in town ... I’d be a little worried that the [ambulance] would be able to come and collect me if I fell or had a stroke.”
There are currently six ambulances operating in the county, all of which have rear-wheel drive. If an ambulance gets stuck, the fire department and a tow truck are called on scene to help.
Tim Waite, the county’s director of paramedic services, says ambulances don’t get stuck frequently. “It doesn’t happen often, but given the weather we had last year it can happen ... It’s part of what we deal with in the climate we live in.”
According to Waite, each year the county purchases a new ambulance. When he asked a salesperson at Crestline Coach, the company that Haliburton County buys its ambulances from, about four-wheel drive options, Waite said he was told they are uncommon in Ontario and that Crestline doesn’t sell or make many.
Along with a higher price, Waite said that four-wheel drive options wouldn’t be suitable for the county because they’re less fuel efficient, which would have an impact over the lengthy distances emergency services travels across the county. Waite added that the trip in a four-wheel drive ambulance wouldn’t be as smooth for the patient on board.
“The ride is not as comfortable, the fuel consumption is a lot more so it makes it a lot more expensive to run, and maintenance is a lot more expensive,” he said.
If the county were to move to the four-wheel option, Waite said they would have to replace all of the current rear-wheel ambulances. Waite explained that the closest ambulance responds when a call is made, so there’d be no way to guarantee that a four-wheel drive ambulance was sent out to the locations where it would be most necessary.
Dysart et al Reeve Murray Fearrey said in his time as the chair of county council’s EMS committee, he has never heard of a case where emergency services hasn’t been able to get to a patient.