Watch your speed, it’s an emergency

Paramedics in P.E.I. can only go 10 km/h above the limit in town

Watch your speed, it’s an emergency

Photograph by Istock

When responding to medical emergencies, paramedics say that exceeding the speed limit is just part of the job. But how fast is too fast? Citing safety concerns, Island EMS, the company that operates ambulances on Prince Edward Island, has tightened its cap on speeds—despite the fervent protestations of the paramedics union. “We’re not talking about these people wanting to be cowboys,” says union spokesman Bill McKinnon. “We’re talking about professionals who have always had discretion and used it wisely.”

The dispute began last November, when Island EMS introduced a policy further limiting speeds. Relaxed slightly in February, it now prohibits ambulances from going more than 10 km/h over the speed limit in town, and more than 20 km/h over it on highways. According to Island EMS general manager Craig Pierre, speeding is a safety hazard which, on narrow P.E.I. roads, doesn’t necessarily result in an earlier arrival. “When you’re travelling fast you have to brake harder,” he says. “Slower, more controlled driving actually gets you there in the same time.”

McKinnon, who claims the cap is more restrictive than in other Canadian jurisdictions, says the union was unable to find a single accident in P.E.I. involving an ambulance in emergency mode directly related to speed. As well, he cites an incident in New Brunswick when an elderly patient died after paramedics, prohibited from exceeded a speed cap, didn’t arrive in time. “We’re really concerned that a similar incident will occur here,” he says. (Ambulance New Brunswick, a subsidiary of the company that owns Island EMS, has since reviewed its policy and relaxed the caps.)

Unable to reach a compromise, the parties have called for government intervention. A communications officer for P.E.I. Health Minister Carolyn Bertram says that, for now, she is staying out of the conflict. But after discussing the issue with Island EMS earlier this month, Bertram told the Charlottetown Guardian, “From what I see, [the Island EMS policy] is ensuring patient safety.”

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