US - Canada heatwave map July 2021. Illustration by the European Space Agency
17 Sep 2021

After the heatwave that killed 800 - BC hires hundreds of new paramedics

Vancouver and Western Canada were in the center of the world´s news flow a few days in June/July: Parts of the province of British Columbia had almost 50 degrees celsius ( up to 120 F) for several days in a row and more than 800 people died from heat related injuries that week. 

A severely understaffed ambulance system had thousands of residents wait for up to several hours for emergency calls. Hospitals were full and were turning some people away when residents took matters in their own hands and drove their elderly loved ones to care facilities themselves.  

Paramedics and 911 staff were almost in tears when interviewed in radio and TV the days following the heatwave. In the views of the unions, the situation had been entirely preventable;  the problem with understaffing of the ambulances, specially in the interior country side of the province, had allegedly been the center of the union´s fight for a decade or more. 

 

Almost 600 more paramedics added in historical hiring push

This week, at a news conference on September 14, health minister Adrian Dix announced that 24 ambulance stations will be converted from on-call paramedic staffing to 24/7 stations with eight full-time paramedics, resulting in 177 total positions. Communities benefiting from this are both on the lower mainland (Greater Vancouver area) and on Vancouver Island

26 smaller more stations have moved to or will move to a scheduled on-call staffing model that will bring more regular paramedic jobs. 

The province is also looking to hire 85 new full-time paramedics to be spread across the greater Vancouver region, Kamloops and Prince George. They will also hire 30 new full-time dispatchers. Dix said that the province is in the process of filling those positions currently.

This  is in addition to the 295 positions posted by the BC Emergency Health Services in July after the province faced criticism for high ambulance wait times during the heatwave in late June.

According to local media, this is historically the single largest hiring push for paramedics in the history of the province.

Map illustration (Above) European Space Agency

Credits: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2021), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The persistent heat over parts of western Canada and parts of the US was caused by a heat dome stretching from California to the Arctic. Temperatures have been easing in coastal areas, but there has been little respite for the inland regions.
 
While heatwaves are quite common during the summer months, the scorching heatwave hitting parts of western Canada and the US has been particularly devastating – with temperature records shattered and hundreds of people falling victim to the extreme heat.
Canada broke its temperature record for a third consecutive day: recording a whopping 49.6°C on 29 June in Lytton, a village northeast of Vancouver, in British Columbia.
 
Portland, Oregon, also broke its all-time temperature record for three days in a row.
 
The extent of the heatwave can be seen in this map, which shows the land surface temperature of parts of Canada and the US on 29 June. The data show that surface temperatures in Vancouver reached 43°C, and Calgary and Portland recorded 43°C. The hottest temperatures recorded are in the state of Washington (visible in deep red) with maximum land surface temperatures of around 69°C.
 
The map has been generated using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission. While weather forecasts typically use air temperatures, the Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer onboard Sentinel-3 measures the energy radiating from Earth’s surface. Therefore, the map shows the actual temperature of the land’s surface pictured here, which can be significantly hotter or colder than air temperatures.
 
The light blue in the image represents either snow and ice or cloud coverage. Snow and ice can be seen, for example, in the mountain ranges of Canada and Mount Rainier in the US, while some clouds can be seen on the Pacific Coast and in the bottom right of the map.