Four and a half years ago, the Robertsville ambulance base opened its doors. That was a few months before the 2014 municipal election when the current Mayor and County Warden, Ron Higgins, was elected. Three other members of North Frontenac Council, Deputy Mayor Fred Perry, and Councillors Wayne Good and John Inglis, were there when the decision to build the new station was taken by Frontenac County Council.
Although it opened in 2014, the debate about the location and hours of operation at the base, lasted for several years. For over 10 years, the ambulance was parked outside, at the township garage hallway between Snow Road and Ompah. In the winter it was left running during the entire 12-hour shift in order to ensure that none of the medicines or equipment in the vehicle froze. The paramedics were either in the car or in the township garage while waiting to be called out.
It took years to rectify the situation, partly because the county and the township couldn’t agree on a location. A study determined that the optimal location for a base was at Ardoch Road and 509, in Central Frontenac, in order to cover Highway 7 and keep the call volume at a reasonable level. North Frontenac Council wanted the base to be located at Ompah instead, at the same location as a proposed new fire hall. Paul Charbonneau, the Chief of the Frontenac Paramedic Services, said that if a base were to be built in Ompah the Parham base needed to be replaced with a base in Sharbot Lake.
The proposed Ompah ambulance base/fire station project was pursued, but the county and the township could not come to an agreement over construction costs. The idea of a base in Robertsville ended up being a compromise that everyone could live with. It is only a couple of kilometres north of the Ardoch Road location, so the paramedic services were happy, and it is in North Frontenac, so the township was happy. As an added bonus, the decision was taken to make it a full-fledged base, instead of a satellite base. The shift for the 12-hour ambulance that runs out of the base begins and ends at the base. If, as originally planned, it was a satellite base, the shift would begin and end at the home base in Parham, cutting the service window by over an hour a day.
Staffing and equipment costs for a 12 hour ambulance shift are significant. When deciding to add a shift, projected call volumes in the vicinity of the base where the shifts is being added is the major factor, and Paramedic Services have compile increasingly more sophisticated data about call volumes in recent year
At the time the Robertsville base was being built, the number of calls were marginal for a 12 hour dayservice at Robertsville, but given the distances involved in Frontenac County, it was necessary to build the base and institute the service anyway. However, there was no way, with the call volume and population density in North and Central Frontenac, that a 24 hour shift would be contemplated unless something changed drastically, which has not happened.
This is why it is surprising, to say the least, that the council of North Frontenac is now lobbying for a night shift at the Robertsville station. Indeed, one of the local paramedics from the region responded on Twitter to Mayor Higgins call for a 24 hour service by saying it would be of more benefit for the residents of North Frontenac if a new 12 hour day-time shift was added in Kingston, where call volumes continue to rise. The current shortage in Kingston, results in the Robertsville ambulance often being re-located to Sharbot Lake or Parham to cover for the Parham ambulance, which has been re-located to Sydenham so the Sydenham ambulance can cover a shortfall in Kingston. The paramedic service is poised to react to calls that come in, rightly so, and it is designed to make optimal use of the resources it has at its disposal.
North Frontenac Council’s goal of adding a night shift at the Robertsville base, demonstrated a lack of knowledge about the operational criteria for the service. It also demonstrates a surprising lapse in memory of relatively recent politics relating to the establishment of the base in the first place.