Come December 1 when the slopes open at Big White Ski Resort, the ambulance service which used to be available will no longer be on site.
The service station has been situated on the mountain for the last 20 years and operated seasonally, six months out of the year 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Recently, it was decided by the BC Ambulance Service that it would be more effective if the ambulance was stationed in Lake Country, better utilizing the Kelowna area.
According to Norm Matheson, the Superintendent of BCAS, during the 2011/12 season the Big White ambulance responded to 121 calls originating from the Big White area and 65 in Kelowna and surrounding areas. Of the 121 calls in Big White, 14 (12%) were urgent calls and the remaining 107 calls (88%) were not urgent.
"We've been evaluating how to best serve the Kelowna area and we did an evaluation across the region and found that the Big White resource was only used a low (sic) amount of time up there. Our volume is about one call per day during the ski season. So we made the decision to re-deploy the unit into the Central Okanagan as a 12 hour resource all year round," says Matheson"
Although ski patrol, first responders and an on-site medical clinic will be available to provide care to those who do not require emergency medical care or transportation, Big White's Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Michael J. Ballingall, is upset the service will no longer be provided to residents and visitors of the mountain.
"On any given weekend or holiday at Big White there are 14,000 to 16,000 people sleeping on that mountain, and on any given day 4,000 people on the mountain and I don't know of any community in British Columbia that has those kinds of numbers that doesn't have ambulance service on a 15 minute call out," says Ballingall.
Ballingall says the resort's argument against the move is that the Lake Country ambulance service is a lot closer to more BCAS centres than Big White is.
"Here you have the second biggest ski resort in British Columbia, a tourism mecca, we've invited people from all over the world. We say it's a safe environment and we have an aging population, aging skiers use the mountain. People have heart attacks and need immediate paramedic assistance and here we are telling them it's over an hour away," says Ballingall.
"That to me is unacceptable."
To which Matheson explained the decision was based on how other ski areas are serviced in the province.
"All other ski areas are serviced from the nearest community. For example Sun Peaks is serviced out of Kamloops and Mount Washington is serviced out of Comox," says Matheson.
Although the ambulance will be stationed in Lake Country, that doesn't necessarily mean it will be the only ambulance deployed to Big White in a case of emergency.
Matheson says the BCAS is not restricted by municipal boundaries and the ambulance will be deployed to where it is needed at the time.
"For example we could easily have an ambulance from Grand Forks, going home, after dropping a patient off in Kelowna, and it's going past the Big White turn off, so we would deploy that ambulance up to Big White to respond."
A helicopter, based out of Kamloops will also be available to respond to patients who meet the criteria for air ambulance transport.
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