Arbitration board refuses to put brakes on Island EMS speed policy

Andrew Chisholm
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Island EMS ambulances

Paramedics in the province will have to continue following an Island EMS speed policy or face disciplinary action says, the president of CUPE local 3324.

Medavie EMS Group, the parent company of Island EMS, sent a memo to its staff on Feb. 9, 2009 informing them of a new vehicle operation code which restricts paramedics from driving no more than 10 to 20 km-h over the posted speed limit depending on where they are traveling, even in emergency situations.

The union got involved after at least one Island EMS paramedic was disciplined for breaking the company's speed policy, said Jason Woodbury, the president representing approximately 100 paramedics in the province.

"Our feeling was it also affected patient care," said Woodbury. "It didn't make sense to us to have that type of policy when our protocols dictate that time is essential."

The union filed a complaint with Island EMS and had several unsuccessful meetings trying to resolve the union's concerns with the company's policy.

The issue was then brought before an arbitration board at hearings held last September and January after talks between the two sides failed.

The arbitration board ruled in favour of Medavie EMS' speed policy, putting the brakes on a paramedic's discretion to drive at speeds they feel are necessary.

"It was ruling that the employer has the right to manage and operate on safety aspects and develop policies to incorporate within the organization," said Woodbury.

Paramedics working for New Brunswick's ambulance service, which is also owned by Medavie EMS, are able to choose their own speeds after employees and the employer found common ground, said Woodbury.

"The policy in New Brunswick and the policy in P.E.I. at one time were similar. Because of communications with the employees and the employer, the policy got changed. Here on P.E.I., we were unable to do that except for an arbitration process," he said. "We just wanted to have that discretion when it's called for. We don't want a license to speed and we don't want to be cowboys."

"It didn't make sense to us to have that type of policy when our protocols dictate that time is essential," Jason Woodbury, president of CUPE local 3324

Health Minister Carolyn Bertram met with Island EMS last year. Bertram said the issue of capping the speed limits of ambulances attending emergencies with lights and siren on is between Island EMS and its union.

"From what I see, this is ensuring patient safety," Bertram told The Guardian in March of 2010.

Bertram said if the province was to step in and try to override the speed restrictions put in place by Island EMS, it would be assuming the liability if somebody was to get hurt.

"This would be a liability issue for the province," she said.

Woodbury doesn't buy Bertram's statements.

"Certainly government would have the power to turn this around," he said. "Island EMS is contracted out by the province. I'm sure they have dictatorship over something."

Union officials did have the right to appeals the arbitration board's ruling but after consulting with legal staff, the union decided to leave the issue alone.

Woodbury noted that very few emergencies - around two per cent - are calls where paramedics would like to have the discrepancy to break the company's speed policy.

"Time is obviously crucial in any emergency, especially when it's related to heart or stroke," he said. "Time is tissue."



Organizations: CUPE, Medavie EMS Group, The Guardian

Geographic location: New Brunswick, P.E.I.

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Recent comments

  • first last
    August 11, 2011 - 15:07

    NB medics are allowed a max of 130km/h, and they have to provide detailed documentation on why it was needed. Very rarely is it done. NS didn't raise any fuss at all when this policy first started with us - I wonder why NB and PEI can't get a grip on the facts - speeding ambulances are bad for patient care and comfort.

  • Mr. Blackwell
    August 08, 2011 - 14:39

    What a joke this policy is. If Islanders are trying to get rid of the Amish-esque perception given by the rest of Canada (believe me, there is one) this has to go.

  • Concerned
    August 05, 2011 - 09:40

    Next time I have an emergency, I will think twice before calling an ambulance. More people will opt to drive themselves or their loved ones to the hospital (without sirens/lights), I live in the country and if I wait for paramedics to respond it will take them over 30 minutes to get here. I am sure we will have inexperienced people driving erratic on our roads causing more accidents. People drive 10-20 km over speed limit in non-emergencies. Paramedics and any other emergency personnel should be allowed to use their own discretion when responding to emergencies!!

  • Tom Osterbeck
    August 02, 2011 - 23:07

    I'm retired firefighter & paramedic with 35+ yrs. experice,I live in the u.s.a. Over here the same thing has been going on.WHAT EVER HAPPEN TO PT.CARE COMES FIRST? It seems to me the hire ups dont care & they just want more money.I hope this thinking stops real soon,before more pts. die because EMS could'nt get there in time to save them

  • Neil
    August 02, 2011 - 17:25

    Actually HAHA and Jim B I will be staying here for a few more years because of my salary and because of how PEI does nothing to improve itself financially. And HAHA you will realize when you get an education and Leave PEI that you can gain experience and money really fast and not be taxed like crazy to pay for committees that make stupid decisions like this. I will return and build my house with cash, have 2 new vehicles that will be paid for, zero debt and then buy out my family business. See unlike most Islanders, I went and gained experience so I would not think naively and be able to leave my own legacy.....not ride the coat tales of a successful family business. And you are right, there are no careers on PEI that could pay close to $95000 a year, I'm not moving back for a huge salary....I've made my money. Drop me a resume, I may have a place for you as spell checker.

    • Haha
      August 02, 2011 - 18:43

      Neil... sounds good. As long as proper grammar isn't an issue then I should do alright. :)

  • Marie
    August 02, 2011 - 14:31

    Lets see how fast things change when one of these decision makers need an ambulance for a loved one.The speed limit will definitely be increased.Let them go as fast as necessary,lives are at stake here.

  • the peanut gallery
    August 02, 2011 - 14:26

    Just remember, when it takes too long to get to your house in an emergency, don't get mad at the Paramedics. They were only doing what they were told don't forget that they tried to fix it and neither Government nor the arbitration board would listen. Andre: Did you ever stop to think that the Paramedics you were metioning got assigned to a call after they'd gotten their coffee ? Amy glad to hear your son survived, Job well done by you and your husband!

  • Amy
    August 02, 2011 - 11:44

    Well I for one don't care how fast hey go as long as they get where they need to in time... if that mans 20 or 30 km over the speed limit. My son was 11 months old when we had to call 911 , Thank god my husband and I knew CPR because it took EMS 15 mins to get to us ... From Montague to Georgetown takes me 15 should have only taken then 10 at the most.. They didn't save my son ..We did ..Thinking about moving closer to town.

  • Kevin Molyneaux
    August 02, 2011 - 11:44

    I don't know all the details but it seems that a rule such as up to 40% over the speed limit would be more appropriate. So in a 20km/h zone they could drive about 30km/hour and in a 90km/h they could drive up to ~125km/h

  • Neil
    August 02, 2011 - 10:25

    Another brilliant decision made by a sinking island. Wow, just when I think of moving back I look at my $95000 a year pay stub and read the guardian. Hey Islanders, you guys are a joke. I'm proud to be from PEI but man you people continue to make stupid decisions time and time again.

    • jim B
      August 02, 2011 - 13:12

      Yeah Neil, your Island pride really shines through when you make statements like "Hey Islanders, you guys are a joke." Feel free to staty right where you are...

    • haha
      August 02, 2011 - 15:03

      Suuurrre... $95,000 per year and you consider moving back to PEI!? What career, exactly, on PEI would pay you anything comparable to that ... given the fact that you cannot correctly spell "the guardian"? ;)

  • james
    August 02, 2011 - 10:20

    There have been a few cases where ambulances in NB and NS (operated by sister companies of Island EMS) have gone off the road due to excessive speed... and not doubt the ambulance companies involved are getting sued. That's why they have a blanket speed limit policy for all ambulances, regardless of whether it's in PEI, NB or NS (or Ontario now). This makes sense to me. You don't want a patient jostled around on our pathetically engineered roads in PEI. PEI roads aren't built or maintained for high speed driving. You could easily kill another driver or injure the patient being transported by driving one of these big heavy vans (ambulances) around a corner or blasting through intersections, etc. And just remember what our roads are like in the winter.... It's too bad police don't follow the same rules when responding to an emergency call (except when they have to stop someone breaking the speed limit). A few years ago a fire truck blasted through an intersection on a red light in Halifax and killed a driver that they broad sided. Her family sued the pants off the fire department and the fire fighters involved. I would do exactly the same thing to any emergency vehicle if they were in the wrong. Just because you have flashing lights doesn't mean you don't have to drive safely and within the law. You want your ambulances to drive faster? Go bug Ron MacKinley and have his engineers sign off on raising the speed limit for the roads in question. I doubt you'd get an engineer willing to raise the speed limit on a non-controlled access highway such as PEI's so-called ''arterial roads'' above 90 kph.

  • Andre in Cornwall
    August 02, 2011 - 10:19

    Well, people’s opinions change if and when these drivers get in an accident. No post as to what two female drivers where doing one day – bus driver and I saw it – driving as bad as one of my daughters. On University Ave 3:30 – 4:30 pm when repaving going on – I am surprised it was not reported, lost I'm sure – University Ave. The Attendants’ had trouble getting in vehicle (as they came out of Robin's) at the meter; trouble backing out with coffee and donuts – held up traffic, then as the EMS Van went towards University and Fitzroy it turned onto Fitzroy and put lights on and hammer down to get coffee where it was going, I assumed, while hot! You seem to forget they’re human; and the company knows – as we live in Canada, more PEI – the drivers would have to be going at a speed that they too died in the accident, caused by EMS Driver, before anyone could successfully sue Island EMS via Medavie EMS Group! Do not forget the saying, you can’t sue the Government. Medavie EMS Group tends to look good to most! Then: Woodbury noted that very few emergencies - around two per cent - are calls where paramedics would like to have the discrepancy to break the company's speed policy."Time is obviously crucial in any emergency, especially when it's related to heart or stroke," he said. "Time is tissue." I use Scotties.... Has Woodbury been in an ambulance, in need of help, as it is bad enough knowing you’re going to the QEH, no need to be worried about bad driving as well? Medavie EMS Group, Island EMS are no doubt concerned the drivers will, if they have not already, believe themselves too be untouchable! Do not forget, we believed Police did not hurt folks? I have had Dr. Champion say to me, ‘Its wonder you’re still alive’; still I would never call Island EMS when in need (desperate) to enter the QEH, I call a cab! Simply put, everyone interprets rules and training differently; and the more they get away with, the worse they become! Here on PEI it is, don’t rock boat? Yes I’ve paid and too, paying! Remember, Island EMS hits something, body in back pays (they’d do better with experience training) and/or body in other vehicle. Stop and watch them, as they drive by – without lights on, no hands; with lights on, and flying, hands at 5 to 1 and leaning forward! Then with RCMP, know that they are paper work, and only a certain % of officers to Cover many many KM, so flying is what they do!

    • What
      August 02, 2011 - 14:29

      I think if this post made any sense... I would disagree with it. You should post your last name too Andre so that if anyone called an ambulace for you, EMS could respect your wishes and send you a taxi.

  • ferd buffet
    August 02, 2011 - 09:58

    Now y'all got to see Bertram's way. She knows there will be nobody to take care of y'all at the hospital anyway when the ambulance gets there so why the big rush.

  • Islander
    August 02, 2011 - 07:47

    They don't have 1/1000 the driver training a cop does and unlike a police car Whig is built to go fast they are driving stock vans. If people can't see the risk in that they are blind. They are not held up due to sirens and the difference will be a minute or two. If it's down to that you will probably be dead anyways.

    • Another Islander
      August 02, 2011 - 11:51

      Well said

  • Bill
    August 02, 2011 - 07:21

    This is just getting out of hand someone could be dying, Give your head a shake Why can cops go fast as hell?? whats the worse that can happen if the cops don't get there in time? I am gald hear that our ambulance service has to obay a speed limit when someone could have a collapsed lung and cant breath.. WAKE UP..

  • confused
    August 02, 2011 - 06:44

    the ems went down our road a few eves ago going the speed limit .a few seconds passed the rcmp flew by could hardly see them.they had to have passed the ems.get a grip guys it's not the rcmp who are going to save peoples have the laws in the wrong direction.but what else is new on pei? go figure.

  • so stupid...
    August 02, 2011 - 06:31

    The usual speed of traffic is about 10km/hr over the speed limit, but there are many who travel 20-30km/hr over the limit. I hate when I can see an ambulance in front of me the whole time I'm driving, knowing that they're not allowed to get to the place of emergency quickly..

  • flabbergasted
    August 02, 2011 - 03:07

    I couldn't even finish reading, I think my head would explode. What. The. H-E-hockeysticks?

  • David
    August 02, 2011 - 01:03

    The sad thing is when you see an ambulance lights on going to or from a call the traffic around it is keeping up with it! Nobody pulls over and stops for emergency vehicles around here anymore and most traffic goes well over the posted speed so they're catching up to the ambulance but nobody dares pass one...yet.

    • David is Right
      August 02, 2011 - 09:43

      I believe you are supposed to pull over to the side of the road and allow emergency vehicles to pass. If people realized and practised this law, then the ambulance would have a clear path. I understand there is no room to do this on narrow city streets with parking on both sides, but folks....on the highway, please pull over. A life could be at risk and you could be the cause of delayed treatment

  • The Illustrious Client
    August 02, 2011 - 00:36

    Yeah, when I am lying on the couch in full cardiac arrest the last thing I am worried about is if the paramedics are speeding. I want them here as fast as they can make it and then get me to the hospital and if that means speeding then so be it.

  • Don MacKenzie
    August 02, 2011 - 00:31

    I would say the company, Medavie EMS Group, has contingency plans to scapegoat any ambulance crew that is too late arriving on the scene of an emergency because of the speed limit it has imposed. If anyone dies or is left permanently injured because of a late arrival, the company will not stand up and take responsibility. They will blame the paramedics to try to stave off any lawsuits. It seems the company is saying the paramedics are better trained in New Brunswick and so can drive faster in emergencies than their counterparts in P.E.I. I really don't think that is true. A earlier poster suggested the imposed speed limit is to save a few dollars on gas and I certainly hope that is not the case, but who knows? Let the paramedic on the scene make the decision. These are highly trained professionals and not a bunch of yahoos who like to speed around with lights and sirens blasting.

  • Curious
    August 01, 2011 - 20:56

    It amazes me that our emt's are unable to use their discretion when traveling to an emergency situation. It also confuses me to try and figure why the RCMP can travel at whatever speed they wish( I guess they aren't unionized),and to do what? Watch people die while waiting for an ambulance? I can't believe that our Canadian society also has the biggest fears of " who is at fault mentality" and that is the only reason people are dying with the ambulance traveling 50km/hr to a heart attack victim or an accident scene. Why do we need sirens and red lights on our ambulances if they are only going to drive along with th traffic??.? I realize all I am is a taxpayer and really shouldn't have any say...........

  • JJ Mack
    August 01, 2011 - 20:16

    Sad, very sad that Medivie Bluecross is hiding behind safety for patients, staff and public. I wish they would come clean and admit this is about fuel milage, the price of fuel and their overall bottom line.