Decommissioned ambulances extend emergency medical care beyond York Region

Jennifer McLaughlin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Three York Region Paramedic Services ambulances will continue to service communities and save lives even after decommissioning.

Two of the three donated ambulances were presented to the Emergency Response Team Search and Rescue (ERT SAR) and the Ontario Volunteer Emergency Response Team (OVERT) August 9.

“I am proud and fortunate to be part of a dynamic and innovative team here at York Region that builds and supports healthy and diverse communities and supports our global partners,” said Iain Park, deputy chief of paramedic operations for York Region, adding “the donation of these two ambulances highlights the importance of partnership and our commitment to providing emergency medical care resources beyond our community.”

The Ontario government requires all ambulances to be decommissioned or removed from service after five years of use or 250,000 kilometres. York Region Council approved the donation policy as a goodwill gesture and fiscally manageable since the vehicles are considered a “foregone revenue.”

Since 2014, council has approved the donation of 14 decommissioned ambulances to not-for-profit, community, or international organizations around the world. “Helping those in need is what paramedicine is all about,” said Lisa Gonsalves, general manager, paramedic and seniors services for York Region.

Currently, the region may donate up to 25 per cent of the decommissioned surplus vehicles in any given calendar year, provided the value of those vehicles does not exceed $25,000. Historically, this equates to two to three ambulances.

The region trades in the remainder of the 10 to 14 decommissioned vehicles against the purchase of new ambulances, which cost approximately $170,000 each. York Region Paramedic Services currently has 74 ambulances servicing nine municipalities.

Preference for organizations selected to receive the donated ambulances is first given to regional or local organizations, followed by provincial, federal, then international relief organizations.

ERT SAR is a search and rescue team specializing in technical rescue medical response in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

“We have so many uses for (the ambulance). As a medical response vehicle, as a rehab vehicle, command and control with our computers and GPS, and satellite coordination,” explained Gary Foo, search and rescue chief for ERT SAR.

Adding the ambulance to their equipment means “we can deploy very quickly and remotely to serve more people quickly.”

Search and rescue is the primary function of OVERT, with support for community emergencies and disasters also provided. All team members are volunteers who dedicate a significant amount of time to their training operations.

“This donation is significant to our organization as we do not receive government funding, and all of our operations and capital expenses are covered through the fundraising efforts by our team members,” shared OVERT representative Amanda Quinn.

Providing search and rescue operations to an area that ranges from Peel to Peterborough-Hastings to York and Durham Regions, OVERT is responsible for “the most populous and geographically diverse space in Canada when it comes to search and rescue.” The ambulance will be the “primary asset on scene,” used for towing command trailers, onside rehabilitation, and victim care.

Ambulances4NU is the recipient of the third decommissioned ambulance from York Region this year. The organization facilitates the donation of ambulances from Ontario municipalities directly to Nunavut communities.

Higher costs of goods and services in the far north limit the ability to purchase new ambulances. Remote communities must therefore use whatever vehicles are available for patient transport without the ability to stabilize the patient en route.

The donated ambulance was shipped to the Municipality of Bear Lake in July to reach its destination before the ice arrives.

Photo: OVERT team members accept the ceremonial key from York Region for their newly donated ambulance. Iain Park, deputy chief, paramedic operations (far left), Deputy Mayor of Newmarket and Regional Councillor Tom Vegh (holding sign, left), Amanda Quinn, OVERT (holding sign, right), Lisa Gonsalves, general manager, paramedic and seniors services (far right), and OVERT and York Region Paramedic Services team members.

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