THUNDER BAY, ON --- August 6, 2012 ---- Wade’s testimony at a Queen’s Park committee probing the troubled air ambulance service on “down staffing” — not having enough pilots on duty to launch in an emergency. He told the committee “a trauma helicopter continually grounded without medics is unconscionable and, some would argue, negligent.”
Veteran helicopter pilot Bruce Wade was suspended with pay Thursday along with another unnamed ORNGE employee. Both work out of the Thunder Bay regional centre.
The insider referred to Wade as a “good pilot with a good record.” Wade has been a chopper pilot since 1995 and began flying for ORNGE’s predecessor service in 2001.
The follow is Committee Transcripts: Standing Committee on Public Accounts - July 31, 2012 - Special report, Auditor General: Ornge Air Ambulance and Related Services
MR. BRUCE WADE
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Our next presenter is Mr. Bruce Wade. Would you like to come forward? Welcome, Mr. Wade, and just to confirm that you have received the letter for a witness appearing before the committee?
Mr. Bruce Wade: I did.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Very well. Would you like to do an oath or an affirmation?
Mr. Bruce Wade: I’ll take an oath.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Very well. The clerk will have you swear an oath.
The Clerk of the Committee (Mr. William Short): There’s a Bible in front of you. Mr. Wade, do you solemnly swear the evidence you shall give to this committee touching the subject of the present inquiry shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
Mr. Bruce Wade: I do.
The Clerk of the Committee (Mr. William Short): Thank you.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): You have time for an opening statement, and then we’ll go to questioning from the various parties.
Mr. Bruce Wade: First, before I begin my opening statement, I have to apologize. I’m under medication for a throat problem with an ENT right now, so if my voice fades in and out—I can barely speak. But I’m here.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, thank you for your interest in the truth. My name, as you know, is Bruce Wade. When I was notified that I was called to testify, I emailed Ron McKerlie, CEO of Ornge, to inform him and see if he had objection. We had a very good phone call where he let me know he did not have objection.
Right from the start, I want you all to know I believe the rotor air ambulance can be fixed.
At this committee you’ve heard testimony about missing millions, multiple shell companies, hiring of persons into positions they were not qualified to hold, alleged kickbacks, alleged political interference and other nefarious dealings. You heard Mazza claim “black spots” in his memory when asked how a speedboat came to be purchased, yet go into incredible details about communications centre computer servers with less than 2% memory left.
You heard straight from Mazza himself that, in his words, he always did what was in the best interests of Ornge. That statement alone, in my opinion, shows he and his sycophant executives—
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Excuse me, could you just pull that mike down a little closer there? That’s great.
Mr. Bruce Wade: —that he and his executives were not working for the best interests of patients and taxpayers. Thankfully, they’re gone.
Across our system we rejoiced when the auditor delved further into Ornge. It was then we thought reasonable people would step in and stop all helicopter pilot and engineer transfers into Ornge once it became evident just how bad things really were.
Many of us read the Auditor General’s report and understood the serious content. I’d like to personally thank our auditor for the excellent work that he and his dedicated staff did in their audit of Ornge while under Mazza’s reign. I don’t see him in the room, unfortunately, but I’d also like to thank him for clearly reporting the management culture of fear and intimidation that was rampant in the Ornge system.
To give the committee a sense of the front-line reality, I want to quote some of my colleagues. From a medic: “Give ’em hell at the committee about Thunder Bay. We in northwestern Ontario are tired of being treated like the red-headed stepchild.”
From a helicopter pilot: “Rotary-wing aircraft service communities that do not have airports, backcountry bush, highway accidents, plane crashes and all locations in between—places no plane can service. We respond to every possible type of medical emergency that can come up. In my 20-plus years as an EMS pilot in Ontario, I can assure you that we have saved lives and reduced a lot of suffering. This is what the public expects of us and counts on us to do when called upon. When we do not have paramedics, we cannot do our job. If you didn’t have any house fires, would you remove the firemen from the fire trucks?”
From a medic: “We have more staff we don’t need, more complaints of managerial incompetence and malevolence, and less ability to tell others what is going on. We have a management structure blaming us for the fiscal woes of a company, a company that couriered apples across the province for PR campaigns.”
From a helicopter engineer: “This whole system is beyond ridiculous.”
From a pilot and medic during lunch one day—when I say pilot, I’m referring to rotary side: “If he didn’t waste $600,000 on MBAs for his friends, we’d have more trained medics to properly crew our Thunder Bay helicopter .”
From another helicopter pilot: “I used to be proud of what I did flying medevac, now I don’t tell anyone.”
Mr. Chair, honourable members of the committee, I’m not here as a disgraced former executive of Ornge or a recipient of one of their MBAs or a public servant called upon to offer insight from their perspective or a high-priced lawyer who worked for Ornge, nor any other person who has lined their pockets at the expense of the air ambulance system. I’m a front-line helicopter pilot. I fly medevac. I have worked as a helicopter pilot in the service of the public and Ontario’s air ambulance system since the fall of 2001. I’m based on the Thunder Bay trauma helicopter, which has faithfully served the taxpayers of northwestern Ontario for decades.
Today, my focus will be on the operations on the front lines of northwestern Ontario. For us, this is not a business case, it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme, it’s not a political issue, it’s not a game; it’s lives at stake. That’s what this focus is on: It’s lives at stake, folks.
Across this province on a daily basis, pilots fly our ambulance helicopters into challenging situations. Paramedics treat seriously injured accident victims, and the engineers do their utmost to maintain the helicopters. We are the air ambulance system. We need the resources to do our jobs.
If you’re not familiar with the vastness of northern Ontario, consider this: If you got in your car here at the provincial Legislature today, it would take you 17½ hours of driving to get to Thunder Bay. It takes about 13 hours to drive from Sudbury to Thunder Bay. It’s about 1,000 kilometres on the two-lane Trans-Canada Highway. It takes about six hours to drive from Thunder Bay to Kenora, another 500 kilometres on the two-lane Trans-Canada Highway. In that drive, you cross a time zone and still have at least another hour past Kenora just to get to the Manitoba border.
For almost three years, since the very first fixed-wing was added to the Thunder Bay base, Ornge has stripped the medics from the only trauma helicopter between Sudbury and Kenora, a distance of approximately 1,500 kilometres. All of us have raised this issue with Ornge management, old and new. Some have gone to their MPPs; some went to the press. I went to the Minister of Health. All of us had a high hope that, once this story got out about a routinely grounded medevac helicopter, we would see a resumption in proper medic staffing. It still hasn’t happened.
A trauma helicopter continually grounded without medics is unconscionable and, some could argue, negligent. When the first plane was put into service in Thunder Bay to support the cardiac care unit at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, we were told it would be three days a week and our medics would only be on standby—not removed from the helicopter. After a period of time, Ornge changed the rules for inter-facility transfers with standing offer agreement air carriers, claiming those medics were not trained to a high enough standard on Ornge aircraft to conduct those transfers. Since Ornge trains all air medics in the province, that argument was invalid. In my opinion, that move at that time was solely designed as a money transfer from one Ornge company into another Ornge company.
Eventually, a second plane was put into service in Thunder Bay, but only one additional medic crew was upstaffed. Each of you can do the math on this. There are two airplanes, one trauma helicopter, two crews of paramedics, and that’s it. This unconscionable staffing decision was made by persons who are no longer with Ornge. The new leadership is aware of this ongoing situation, and still, nothing has been done.
I’d like to read into the record some of the locations only a helicopter can service quickly, thus saving lives and reducing suffering, but that would take up the rest of my opening time. I do have a sheet of paper with those names on it. If you live, work or travel through any of these areas, you’ve got no hope of a golden hour for your medical airlift.
The problem with removing the medics from the Thunder Bay trauma helicopter is actually greater than it first appears. Not only do taxpayers of a region or travellers on our highways have no medevac airlift in time of need, but the dominoes cascade into the Kenora region as well. The crews in Kenora are called upon almost daily to dispatch on flights into the Thunder Bay region, thus leaving their area with no coverage. As a sample of the massive lack of proper medevac coverage in northwestern Ontario, I’ve got approximately the last two months of calls Kenora has received to dispatch into the Thunder Bay region. I have copies.
We need medics. In the last 12 months, as the transition date from Canadian Helicopters into Ornge for each new rotor base drew closer, more pilots left. Approximately 20 of the most highly trained, experienced rotor pilots in Canada left the system. This represents the single-largest exodus of aviation professionals in the entire 30-plus-year history of the air ambulance program in Ontario. More are going to leave. About 11 helicopter engineers also left. I and others have chosen to stay and help restore the helicopter EMS system to its proper service levels.
We’ve never seen such high levels of medic understaffing or downstaffing of helicopters ever in the entire history of the air ambulance program. In front of me, and available for your perusal, are the last eight years’ worth of daily pilot journals from the Thunder Bay helicopter base alone. In those journals, day by day, shift by shift, it tells you who was flying, what calls they did, what medics were on, if we were in or out of service and if there was any staff there. It’s all here, folks—eight years’ worth.
Years ago, Mazza insisted on starting his own helicopter operation, claiming that he could do it cheaper. As a matter of fact, part of the sales pitch for the bond offering was an outline that principal and interest would be paid through cost savings by operating and maintaining their own helicopters.
No. It was recently testified to by an Ornge executive that the current cost of operation of the helicopter system is “no more than the previous vendor.” By that testimony, it isn’t cheaper. From our first-hand experience, helicopters aren’t staffed properly, shifts go unfilled and aircraft sit grounded.
From Thunder Bay, we used to be able to airlift cardiac patients to St. Luke’s Hospital in the US, because we had all the appropriate operating certificates from the FAA. Ornge still does not have approvals for the rotary-wing aircraft. It was recently announced that three bases—Thunder Bay, Kenora and Moosonee—will continue to operate the S-76s for the foreseeable future, but we don’t have GPS operations certificates from Transport Canada to conduct GPS approaches for this equipment. We used to.
As you all know, the previous vendor was Canadian Helicopters, one of the top aviation firms in the world. They properly staffed the aircraft, retained dedicated pilots, had highly dedicated engineering and enjoyed excellent labour relations with their crews and their union. All necessary international operations approvals were in place; all necessary Canadian operations approvals were in place; and I believe they maintained a 97%-plus dispatch availability rate for decades.
In spite of the problems—
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Are you almost done the intro?
Mr. Bruce Wade: I’ve got four paragraphs.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Okay, go ahead.
Mr. Bruce Wade: In spite of the problems, I firmly believe the helicopter air ambulance can be fixed. We want our voices heard, our recommendations enacted and our helicopter EMS system working as it should.
Recently, an associate vice-president of corporate communications emailed our pilot union chairman asking him for a quote to be used in a good-news progress report. Suffice it to say, he declined, stating, “We aren’t seeing any progress.”
I challenge the members of this committee to unite as one and make the following immediate demands to the Premier and the Minister of Health, to give us the resources we desperately need:
(1) that all EMS helicopters across the province are properly staffed with two paramedics, 24 hours a day, without exception. They used to be, and the Ambulance Act, in fact, might require this;
(2) that allocation of resources be focused on the front lines;
(3) that the performance agreement gets some teeth, with a proper system of financial penalties put in place as a deterrent to downstaffing of medics or pilots.
I’ll skip number 4.
I fly medevec for very personal reasons. If even one death occurs because no helicopter can respond, from a lack of proper staffing, and a coroner’s inquest is called, I can take comfort in knowing that I tried, for the best interests of Ontario, and my conscience is clear. I’ll be able to look myself in the mirror and know I’ve done everything I possibly can to restore helicopter ambulance service to the northwestern Ontario region. I want to be able to do my job, as do my colleagues on the engineering and the medic side as well.
In closing, Ontario can be proud of the helicopter engineers, the medics, the fixed-wing pilots, the fixed-wing engineers and, of course, my helicopter pilot colleagues across the province. We do make a difference in people’s lives. We need your help.
I hope I can answer your questions. Thank you.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Thank you for that opening statement. We’ll move to the opposition. Mr. Klees: 20 minutes.
Mr. Frank Klees: Thank you, Mr. Wade, for being here.
I’d like to just start off by getting some context of your experience as a helicopter pilot. Could you just summarize briefly for us how long you’ve been a helicopter pilot, when you started with Ornge and how long you’ve been there?
Mr. Bruce Wade: I started flying in approximately 1995. I was with two other firms prior to moving to Canadian Helicopters on the EMS program in 2001. That was the goal I had when I started flying helicopters, and I was determined to get there. I’ve always said that, in my opinion, flying medevac in this province is a pinnacle, and it’s something I want to be able to do for the remainder of my flying career.
Mr. Frank Klees: Sir, you’ve been very forthright over the last number of months since these committee hearings have taken place and since the issue of Ornge was in the public domain. You’ve never hesitated to put your name to an email. I’ve noticed a number that you have sent to members of the committee and addressed to the Minister of Health.
Mr. Bruce Wade: Yes.
Mr. Frank Klees: I want to thank you on behalf of this committee—in fact, on behalf of all members of the Legislature and the public—for doing that. I know a lot of your colleagues have felt intimidated, and that’s understandable.
You’ve made recommendations. You’ve drawn our attention and the attention of the Minister of Health to the failings. You’ve also made specific recommendations. I’d like to know from you, what have you heard back from the Minister of Health or Mr. McKerlie to any of those emails that you have sent and recommendations that you’ve made?
Mr. Bruce Wade: I do have some emails here. Actually, I received a letter back from the Minister of Health herself on April 2. I have copies of it here if anybody wishes to see it. The opening paragraph is, “Thank you for your email about Ornge. I want you to know I share your concerns about what happened at Ornge under its former leadership. Thank you, too, for informing the ministry of your interest in being of assistance. I am particularly interested in your willingness to serve on the board of directors.”
It goes on for two pages. It’s about some of the organizational changes and things of that nature that have taken place. I appreciate that back from the minister, and Mr. McKerlie was copied on this letter. He is aware of it.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Do members want a copy of that response, of that letter?
Mr. Frank Klees: Yes, absolutely.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Okay.
Mr. Bruce Wade: I have copies here if anybody wants them.
As I said before—
Mr. Phil McNeely: Chair, I’m missing the conversation. It’s probably not the speaker’s fault, but I think if you could get a little bit closer to the mike, I could understand.
Mr. Bruce Wade: Sorry; I’m actually on a medication right now for this.
Mr. Frank Klees: So you have a response from the minister, who thanks you for your offer of help. It’s copied to Mr. McKerlie.
Mr. Bruce Wade: Correct.
Mr. Frank Klees: What happened?
Mr. Bruce Wade: I haven’t seen a lot happen.
Mr. Frank Klees: Has anything happened?
Mr. Bruce Wade: On the front lines, from our perspective, not really.
Mr. Frank Klees: I’m talking specifically about your offer of help. Has Mr. McKerlie been in touch with you or anyone else to say, “Mr. Wade, thank you for your offer of help. Please come in and see us. Tell us what it is that you’re recommending”? Has any of that taken place?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Not as an individual, but we have had discussions at the base, with a variety of individuals who have come through. I believe it was around February 9 or 10—I’m not sure of the date—when Mr. McKerlie came to Thunder Bay as his first base visit, along with Patricia Volker, Patrice Merrin and Patricia Lang. They talked to each of the various groups. At that time, we were, of course, still with Canadian Helicopters. We had a very productive hour with them. But since that time, as far as continuing discussion, no.
Mr. Frank Klees: Have you noticed any of the recommendations that were made by yourself or other people on the front line in the meetings—have you noticed any of those recommendations being implemented?
Mr. Bruce Wade: I just want to refer back to an email here just to make sure I have the correct answer, because I don’t think so. I don’t think we’ve seen any.
Yes, here it is. Yes, on February 9, I sent Mr. McKerlie an email to summarize the meeting that we had had with him. Let’s see. No.
Mr. Frank Klees: So none of the recommendations that were made by the front lines have been implemented by Ornge?
Mr. Bruce Wade: None of the recommendations that we had presented have been implemented; yes.
Mr. Frank Klees: Okay. This morning, members of the committee were sent an email. Mr. McNeely took great length to read this into the record. It comes from a Poul-Erik Binderup, who is an Ornge PC-12 captain. In his letter, he makes a point of saying, “We have been overwhelmed by the support we have received from individuals like the Honourable Deb Matthews and interim CEO Ron McKerlie,” citing that things are wonderful, that he and his colleagues in the fixed-wing operations at Ornge Global Air are happy men and women, and went out of his way to make the minister look very good. You’re on the front line—
Mr. Bruce Wade: I was on the front line of this, I believe, longer than Mr. Binderup.
Mr. Frank Klees: So I would just like some balance here because I’m confused. The minister has castigated me today here in committee as someone who is disparaging of the front lines, as someone who has insulted the front lines of our air ambulance service and as someone who just doesn’t seem to care. She said that’s what she’s hearing from the front lines. You’re on the front line; I’d like your opinion first of all if, in fact, that’s the case.
Mr. Bruce Wade: No.
Mr. Frank Klees: And what do paramedics and pilots think about the job that we’re doing as a committee here, and specifically, because the minister went at me directly on this, what does the front line think about the job that I’m doing here on their behalf?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Well, as in any situation, there will be pros and cons, of course. But I can speak for the helicopter side: kudos. I can’t speak for the fixed-wing colleagues. There are some tremendous people there; they do some really good work. Unfortunately, we’re two different worlds. The rotary-wing side of this is very senior people, very experienced people. This is a pinnacle position, multi-engine IFR helicopters, whether it’s in medevac or offshore oil. We see failings in the system, and we think the committee has been doing good work to try and uncover these failings.
Mr. Frank Klees: I want to make the point, Mr. Wade, that while I have been hard on the system, and while I’ve had a good deal to say about the lack of resources, at no time did I ever impugn individuals on the front line.
Mr. Bruce Wade: Absolutely not.
Mr. Frank Klees: In fact, the reason that we’re doing what we’re doing is because, out of respect of the work that’s being done on the front lines, we want to ensure that they have the proper resources, that they have the respect of the Minister of Health and all those who have an obligation to ensure they’re properly supported.
I will just switch a little bit here in terms of an issue that I was discussing previously with Ms. Beecher. That’s the whole issue of resourcing and training of paramedics, the whole concept of how Ornge was handed essentially not only the monopoly to deliver air ambulance service in Ontario but also on the training side. What is your assessment of how well Ornge has done in terms of training their paramedics and training their pilots?
Mr. Bruce Wade: The paramedics as a whole, and this is only because I work alongside them daily, have complained for quite some time that the—I think the term is—speed of the training was not adequate. I know of one individual paramedic who spent five years trying to get certified as a critical care paramedic. I don’t remember in prior years this ever being a problem, getting people trained. I don’t know what the problem is within their training system.
On the pilot side of it, up until just recently, of course, we were all working for Canadian Helicopters on the rotary side, and every single one of us would go to flight safety in Florida. We’d be there for essentially a week and do all your simulator work in level D full-motion simulators, similar to what Air Canada would use for their triple 7s. Now the bulk of the pilots are of course going to New Jersey on the AW139 simulator—again, one of the most complex simulators in the world.
What we have noticed is that on the S-76 side of it, in particular, the training seems to have slowed down. We’re hearing rumours that we’ll be doing it on the aircraft, which is kind of regressive by about 10 or 15 years, because you can’t do the full range of emergency procedures that one would normally expect to anticipate in the air.
On the 139 side, it’s all in New Jersey. It’s a very extensive program and it’s terribly expensive. That is a superior program.
Mr. Frank Klees: Mr. Wade, you made reference to Canadian Helicopters. I referred earlier, when I was having a discussion with Ms. Beecher in terms of the kind of efficiency and response to calls when the service was being provided by Canadian Helicopters and Voyageur, that that rating was 98%. If, in fact, there couldn’t be a response, if they couldn’t respond either by helicopter or by a fixed-wing aircraft, there would be a financial penalty—
Mr. Bruce Wade: That’s my understanding, yes.
Mr. Frank Klees: —that the carrier had to pay to the Ministry of Health. We now, of course, have a situation where there’s no such accountability.
Mr. Bruce Wade: Which is one of my recommendations.
Mr. Frank Klees: My question to you, knowing—and you may have seen the testimony from Mr. Tom Rothfels who, when he was sitting in your chair, said he is convinced that the core competency is simply not there at Ornge to operate the airline side of it, the aircraft side. Is it your opinion that one of the fixes of the problem would be to restore that helicopter operation back into the hands of—whether it’s Canadian Helicopters—or at the very least, put that up for a public tender so that we can have some bidding into that contract to ensure we get the core competency to deliver that service?
Mr. Bruce Wade: I would say it is, because a helicopter is an extraordinarily technologically advanced piece of gear. It’s not something that an organization with no aviation history in helicopters can just pick up overnight and carry on with. It’s being demonstrated daily, unfortunately, and I work there.
Mr. Frank Klees: I just have one last question in this round. It relates to an email that you sent and was addressed to Deb Matthews, Mr. Gravelle and Mr. Mauro, Ms. Gélinas and Mr. Singh. It was in response to a release put out by Ornge in which they say, “Ornge continues to add to its front-line staff team to ensure the best possible patient care. There is now a team of 217 paramedics at Ornge. That’s 10 more medics than at this time last year.” That was June 7.
You responded to that and you were not very pleased about the spin that was being put on that. In fact, you say, “The actual facts remain: Medics are routinely, chronically and, without regard to proper medevac capability, removed or just not available for the trauma helicopter in Thunder Bay. All of you know this has been going on for nearly two years.”
“We are fully grounded without medics. Ornge claims to the press and others the base is staffed 24 hours per day. This statement, while technically correct, is less than honest.”
I would like you to just comment on that. Tell me, when people like yourself and other front-line staff see this kind of communication come from the new management team at Ornge, what is it telling you?
Mr. Bruce Wade: In Thunder Bay, it’s not met with a great deal of joy, because we’ve been pushing for years to have proper staffing levels. It’s disappointing because the recommendations are there. We know from the front lines what has to be done. It’s disappointing. I’m hoping that we do see progress. I’m hoping that by being here today, the message once again gets through to the right people that we do need the support on the front end. We do need these helicopters staffed properly. We’d like to engage in good, honest, open dialogue and build a relationship of trust, but it’s not helping.
Mr. Frank Klees: Thank you.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Thank you very much. We’ll move to the NDP. Ms. Gélinas?
Mme France Gélinas: Thank you for coming down. Welcome to Queen’s Park.
I would like you to try to do a little memory exercise there. Feel free to refer to any of your notes, if that helps. When would you say that people started to report problems with staffing in Thunder Bay?
Mr. Bruce Wade: It would have been about three years ago, approximately, when the very first airplane was put into service. I don’t have the exact date, but I’m sure with all the journals here, we could probably find it.
Mme France Gélinas: So the first time that Ornge purchased its own aircraft and put it into service?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Correct.
Mme France Gélinas: Okay. So at the same time as they did that, they changed the staffing level?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Yes. Well, they didn’t technically change the staffing level; they added the airplane and the fixed-wing colleagues who fly that. What they didn’t do, for a period of time, is increase the number of paramedics on shift. Initially, the aircraft was announced publicly as a support to the cardiac care unit in the Thunder Bay hospital. It was on standby three days a week to bring patients, I’m assuming, to southern Ontario for additional medical care. The medics were on standby for the airplane if the need arose, but they stayed with the helicopter.
Eventually, they moved the paramedics over to another facility, and the focus started shifting to staffing the airplane first and leaving the helicopter as a secondary tool, which essentially is quite useless without paramedics. It was about two and a half to three years ago.
Mme France Gélinas: Have things varied since? Did it ever get better?
Mr. Bruce Wade: No.
Mme France Gélinas: It stayed the same.
Mr. Bruce Wade: Yes.
Mme France Gélinas: Who was aware of this?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Well, everybody in Thunder Bay, pilots and paramedics alike. Plus, we all raised issues with—I went to my employer, which at that time, of course, was CHL. I know the paramedics, almost without exception, were raising this issue with Ornge management, and nothing changed.
Mme France Gélinas: Okay. I’ll stick with who knew about it. Did you ever have an opportunity to go outside of your supervisor and tell upper management at Ornge what was going on and that you didn’t agree with the understaffing?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Not really. Ornge didn’t really want to hear from us at all.
Mme France Gélinas: Ah. And you knew this—
Mr. Bruce Wade: It’s changed now, because we’re actually there.
Mme France Gélinas: And you knew that they didn’t want to hear from you—how did you know that?
Mr. Bruce Wade: We were told in no uncertain terms throughout the system that we were essentially there to fly and not to ask questions. It was nothing in the form of a memo; it was just a very common understanding. They didn’t want to hear from us.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: Can you compare, in pros and cons, the model initially, which was to outsource the aircraft side completely; and the new model, which was to integrate the aircraft and to have it—pros and cons. If you could just kind of sketch that out really quickly: if there’s any benefit to integrating it, or if it was only a con.
Mr. Bruce Wade: I’m trying to be fair. I haven’t seen a benefit to integrating it. Maybe the benefit would be that all staff now work for one organization, perhaps. It has never been an issue before as far as relationships go or team co-operation goes. But from the efficiencies side, as a private contractor operating the helicopters, we were staffed, and those helicopters were available 24 hours a day—staffed, not sitting in a hangar with pilots watching a movie upstairs because we don’t have any medics. That, to me, is the single-biggest frustration that we’re dealing with. Put medics on the helicopters, all of them, 24 hours a day, and most of these problems start going away. It’s lives here; it’s not a game.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: So that’s one issue. Are there any other issues still ongoing besides this issue of the staffing with respect to having aircraft available but not having enough staff to actually put them in the air and save lives? Are there other issues that are still ongoing that haven’t been rectified?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Yes. There are things that are starting to happen recently since we all transitioned in.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: What are those issues?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Well, pilots now—and I’m specifically thinking Thunder Bay—have on occasion been picked up by a private charter and flown to Moosonee to fly that helicopter and leave the Thunder Bay base completely uncovered. That shouldn’t be happening.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: Is that happening on a regular basis systemically, or is it a one-off thing?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Well, it happened to me personally in May twice. As far as I’m aware, talking to some colleagues yesterday, this happened on one or two occasions just this week.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: What is the problem, then? What’s going on? Why is that happening?
Mr. Bruce Wade: We think it’s understaffing. It has to be. There’s just not enough pilots to fly the helicopters.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: So now they’re outsourcing on a one-off basis to get private companies to fly?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Yes. One of the SOA carriers was contracted on a few occasions to pick the pilots up at the beginning of a shift, fly us to Moosonee and then bring us home at the end of the shift.
Mme France Gélinas: So that the base in Moosonee would have pilots?
Mr. Bruce Wade: For sure, yes. No question.
Mme France Gélinas: Otherwise, if you hadn’t gone, there wouldn’t have been a pilot?
Mr. Bruce Wade: There wouldn’t have been pilots there. Moving us from Thunder Bay to Moosonee staffed that helicopter and left this one grounded. This has happened on a number of occasions. I don’t recall ever having this situation before. This is because so many people have left, and the people that have recently been hired—I stand to be corrected on this, but I don’t think any of the new hires are yet online. Perhaps maybe one or two are; I don’t know. But we’re very short-staffed as far as front-line operational pilots right now.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: You wrote to the minister explaining your concerns, and you received a letter back. Did you ever communicate any of your concerns before, perhaps a year, two years, three years ago?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Yes, I would have to say I did. To whom, I wouldn’t recall. I’ve been fairly vocal on trying to maintain services in the northwest region for a long time.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: Was it someone in the government that you expressed your concern to? In what manner did you express concern?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Honestly, I’m not sure, but I have been very vocal trying to keep the service levels up.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: In terms of your own experience, have you seen ministry folks come to inspect the sites, to do some oversight, to see what’s going on, to ensure that the standards are maintained, to ensure the staffing is at the level it should be?
Mr. Bruce Wade: This spring there was an individual on the aviation side—his name escapes me, unfortunately. He used to be with the Ministry of Natural Resources; he may very well still be there. Ken Wong, that was the gentleman’s name. He did whatever audit metrics that he does. We didn’t talk to him; he just came and did whatever he did and carried on.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: And where was that?
Mr. Bruce Wade: That was in Thunder Bay.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: Thunder Bay?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Yes.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: And that was one time in the spring?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Yes. It wasn’t too long ago.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: This year?
Mr. Bruce Wade: This year, yes.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: Okay. Besides that, are you aware of any other time that ministry officials came to do an audit or to just check up on the standards or what’s going on at the base in Thunder Bay?
Mr. Bruce Wade: As a front-line pilot, I wouldn’t even pay attention.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: You would not?
Mr. Bruce Wade: No. If the ministry people had been through every day, I wouldn’t even have realized it.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: That’s fine.
Mme France Gélinas: Just because this is—nobody comes and audits locally the pilots?
Mr. Bruce Wade: No. It’s the systems that are in place, perhaps their record-keeping, their policies or procedures—things along those lines. But as far as the operational pilots, we’re done by Transport Canada every year, separately.
Mme France Gélinas: And you report to Transport Canada for every time you fly?
Mr. Bruce Wade: No. The pilots after a flight enter the flight data into the Ornge computer system, so they have all the information of start and stop times, where we went to, how many people were on board—things of that nature.
There’s also an operational flight plan that’s maintained that’s a Transport Canada requirement. That’s maintained in the offices for a specific period of time. I don’t know how long they have to keep them. Transport can take a random sampling of those at any time. But as far as reporting flights to Transport, no, that’s not the case.
Mme France Gélinas: So you report it into the Ornge database.
Mr. Bruce Wade: Yes.
Mme France Gélinas: Okay. Has this changed since you went to the Agusta helicopters?
Mr. Bruce Wade: I fly the S-76 still, in Thunder Bay, Moosonee and Kenora. All the other bases are on the AW139, and we all use the same computer software, the same terminals. So I’m going to make the assumption that their flight data entry is exactly the same that we’re putting into our system.
Mme France Gélinas: Okay. And there is not more data that is updated directly from the helicopter from one—you haven’t transitioned to the new helicopter.
Mr. Bruce Wade: No. I’ve done the ground school, but our training was cancelled because it was announced that we’re not getting it.
Mme France Gélinas: So you will not be getting the new helicopter?
Mr. Bruce Wade: “For the foreseeable future” was what we were told, and we don’t know what that means. We would have to speculate it would be at least a year just because of how busy the simulators are in New Jersey. This is an extensive program of transition, so we can’t see it happening in the next 12 months.
Mme France Gélinas: And those are the simulators from Agusta.
Mr. Bruce Wade: Correct.
Mme France Gélinas: Did we know about this when we planned the transition or did you just find out about this recently?
Mr. Bruce Wade: That’s fairly recent. I don’t know the exact date, but Mr. Feeley came to Thunder Bay to hold a one-hour meeting with us and tell us and our Kenora colleagues on a conference call that we weren’t getting that helicopter for the foreseeable future, which was met, quite frankly, with no surprise from any of us. I think he was somewhat surprised that we weren’t upset or shocked—because we didn’t expect we’d get it anyway.
Northwestern Ontario, for the last three years, has been substantially neglected, and it’s unfortunate.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: To summarize your concerns, putting it bluntly, one is staffing concerns, that there are not adequate medics to put the aircraft in the air?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Number one.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: Two is that there’s not adequate helicopters to service northern Ontario, and helicopters are necessary because of the terrain and the distances. There are certain places and locations that a fixed-wing just can’t be the option; you need to have a helicopter to go in.
Mr. Bruce Wade: Partially. The numbers of helicopters are not an issue. We have more helicopters now than we did before. There are the 10 Agustas and there are six S-76s available. The problem is, we don’t have enough pilots to fly them.
I actually have—you can have copies of this as well. This is actually the rotor-wing pilot seniority list, July 10 of this year. There are 75 names on it, and I’m going to guess that—one, two, three, four, five, six—maybe seven probably aren’t even online yet. We’re short in Thunder Bay. Kenora is critically short. Moosonee is also short because of having to fly pilots around the province to cover. I do not know what the staffing levels are in southern Ontario.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: Do you feel that northern Ontario is being neglected?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Yes; for sure, yes.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: And that the people of northern Ontario are not receiving the quality of service they should be receiving because of staffing decisions related to the north of Ontario?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Yes.
Mme France Gélinas: I want to come back a little bit to the data entry that we were talking about. The ministry said that the data that they were receiving from Ornge was inflated, that Ornge was reporting more flights than actually happened and was reporting more transport than actually happened. Were you ever told to change the way you reported what you did?
Mr. Bruce Wade: No. No; we’ve always, as far as I can remember, entered the same type of information: the flight number, a patient number, to and from locations. All the flight data records and things are—I’ll just pull one out at random; this is the same thing. Oh, here I pulled out a page where there’s no medics on staff so we don’t do anything. Pilot names—this has never changed, none of this reporting, whether it’s this book or the data we enter into the computers, has ever changed. It’s just a different name on the system. That’s all.
Mme France Gélinas: So, how could those reports not be accurate?
Mr. Bruce Wade: I don’t know.
Mme France Gélinas: You don’t know?
Mr. Bruce Wade: I don’t know because we enter the data as we finish our flights and paperwork.
Mme France Gélinas: Same thing with the medics?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Yes, yes, same thing with the medics. It’s all the same. It has never changed.
Mme France Gélinas: So, whether it was paper form and has now gone to a computer-based way to enter it—can you imagine why the data is different now than it was before?
Mr. Bruce Wade: No.
Mme France Gélinas: Have you seen the numbers for your base to see if it’s any different than what you remember?
Mr. Bruce Wade: I have not seen any printed reports of the information that we enter, with the exception of aircraft out-of-service reports, which we can’t access any longer, which tell you how long an aircraft has been out of service and for what reason.
But as far as the flight data goes, there’s no reason it should be any different. The only way to do it would be to take a year’s worth of reports, if that could be generated, and compare them with the daily journals because the same stuff that’s in here is in the flight data report. It shouldn’t be any different.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): And you have about three minutes.
Mme France Gélinas: You’ve talked about the email that you have written to the ministry. You said that you have been fairly vocal for the last three years. Has anybody that you’ve talked to ever answered back?
Mr. Bruce Wade: I did get a letter back from the minister.
Mme France Gélinas: That’s from this summer, but from before?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Prior to that, not that I can recall. I believe I got an email recently from Michael Gravelle, who thanked me for being a passionate advocate, and he supports what we’re trying to do. But, as far as prior to the story breaking, I don’t think I did.
Mme France Gélinas: Were you surprised when you saw what happened at Ornge, when you saw the headlines in the paper? Did you see it coming?
Mr. Bruce Wade: We saw a lot of it coming but, quite frankly, some of the stuff that was reported was so far beyond what any of us were ever anticipating seeing. It was flabbergasting. We had no idea the depth that this was going to go. We saw it from the front lines. We saw a deterioration of service. It was a shock, an absolute shock.
Mme France Gélinas: When you say that you saw a deterioration of service, are you talking about the deterioration you saw three years ago that stayed the same or was it getting worse and worse before December when it hit the front page of the paper?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Yes, it was still eroding on the operational side, not the numbers of medics and staffing, because that got to the bottom and it stayed there, but the numbers of pilots—the closer we got to having to move to Ornge, the more and more left. The service erosion really started a downward trend as far as being able to put pilots in seats and keeping aircraft staffed. That compounded the situation.
Mme France Gélinas: Although you never did the transition to the new aircraft, it was doing the transition from Canadian Helicopters to Ornge that scared a lot of pilots away?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Yes.
Mme France Gélinas: Although they were not necessarily going to change aircraft, because, as you say, Moosonee, yourself and Kenora have not changed.
Mr. Bruce Wade: It was strictly an operator change that was the impetus for people’s departure. A lot of those who left had been trained on the 139, so they took an extraordinarily valuable endorsement with them and have gone international to other operators.
Mme France Gélinas: They hadn’t worked for Ornge yet. How did they know that they were not going to like it?
Mr. Bruce Wade: We have worked alongside Ornge for years. We witnessed the intimidation tactics that they used against the medics, and we witnessed the frustrations they were having. You’ve got to remember that it doesn’t matter if it’s XYZ running the medics and ABC running the helicopters; we’re one crew. We are a very tight group. We operate in very challenging environments, and we talk to each other. So the frustration level that was evident there and the tactics that were being used—
Mme France Gélinas: Can you give me an example of an intimidation tactic that you saw or heard of?
Mr. Bruce Wade: I’d rather not, because it would potentially identify an individual who would like to remain anonymous, but there were threats against people’s employment from individuals within the old structure.
Mme France Gélinas: So—
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): You are out of time, unless you wanted to—
Mme France Gélinas: I’ll borrow a few minutes from my next round.
It would be their supervisor or management that would threaten their own employees?
Mr. Bruce Wade: On occasion, yes. I think that’s gone now. I think that’s changed. I think that’s a very positive step, there.
Mme France Gélinas: Okay. Thank you.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Okay, very well. We’ll move to the government. Ms. Sandals?
Mrs. Liz Sandals: Welcome, Mr. Wade, and thank you for coming in here, because it is very helpful for us to get the front-line perspective. Just to be clear, you flew for Canadian Helicopters Ltd. for 11 years?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Approximately, yes.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: Then when did you actually start with Ornge?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Our base was transitioned into Ornge on, I believe, March 22 or 23.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: Okay, March 2012, so you’ve been there for three or four months.
Mr. Bruce Wade: But remember, we were working alongside them for years.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: You’re still flying the S-76, but you started training. When you first arrived in March, then, did you—because you said you’d had some training, the preliminary training for the new helicopters.
Mr. Bruce Wade: Right. Last year, our base was scheduled for the Agusta simulators. That training was cancelled, as was Kenora’s. Then they reinstated it again in the fall. Kenora had a ground school, and then we had a ground school. I’m not sure the date of the ground school, but I think it was some time in February.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: It was last fall, of 2011.
Mr. Bruce Wade: It was reinstated in 2012, reinstated for the ground school component, which we had, I believe, sometime between February and April.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: So in fact, the ground training for the new Agusta helicopters actually was while you were still with Canadian Helicopters Ltd. in anticipation that you would transfer?
Mr. Bruce Wade: No. We had actually transferred into Ornge at that time, and yes, it was after March 22. It was some time in April, May—
Mrs. Liz Sandals: So it might have been April, then. Early on in your experience with Ornge, you did the preliminary ground school training, and now you’re waiting for the simulator. Okay.
Mr. Bruce Wade: Yes, that’s right.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: It’s clear from the conversation that you’ve written a lot of emails to various people. Unfortunately, my colleagues and I here haven’t seen any of those until yesterday because they all went to the opposition; they didn’t come to us.
In terms of the committee members, the mailing list was quite selective. None of my colleagues have seen them on this side of the table, so we’re just trying to get up to speed.
Mr. Bruce Wade: Sure.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: One of the things that I noticed that you seem to be concerned about, and this is actually one that I think mainly went to the local Liberal MPPs on June 13 of this year and talks about, “On June 24, Ornge is making a huge operations announcement. All indications are the removal of the Thunder Bay trauma helicopter will be among those announcements.” Clearly that didn’t happen, so I’m wondering—
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Sorry, do you need time to find that email?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Well, I don’t believe I actually have it with me, but it’s okay. Carry on.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: Yes, and I wasn’t going to read any more of it. But you’re not disagreeing with the idea that you were concerned—
Mr. Bruce Wade: Oh, very much so.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: —that the trauma helicopter would be cancelled. It didn’t get cancelled. Why was it that you were convinced it would be cancelled and you were obviously writing to the minister and local MPPs—
Mr. Bruce Wade: As you well saw, as an advocate to keep the system—
Mrs. Liz Sandals: Yes. So what was it that made you think that it was going to be cancelled?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Well, there was a meeting conducted in Timmins by some senior management where operational discussions had taken place, and it was mentioned in that meeting that there was a possible helicopter being removed, potential helicopter removal. Later on, there was another meeting in Kenora where Mr. McKerlie—I’m getting this second-hand; I was not at the meeting—gave them a hypothetical that, in his opinion, Thunder Bay would probably lose its helicopter and those pilots would be absorbed into other bases in the system. The premise from that was because they were looking at the last two or three years’ worth of usage data.
So if I had come in in January or February and had been looking at the last two or three years’ worth of usage data, I would probably draw a similar conclusion, but the usage data is completely flawed. We’re not used because we don’t have medics because they won’t staff the helicopter properly. So that’s where the alarm bells were raised and that’s why the alarm bells were raised.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: So, in this case then, it would appear that Mr. McKerlie was meeting with people in Timmins, meeting with people in Kenora, meeting with people at the various bases, and they said, “You need to look at the data that way,” and the decision was reconsidered. That sounds to me like listening to the feedback on the ground. What I keep hearing you saying to the others is, “Well, there’s no point in talking to people because they won’t listen.”
Mr. Bruce Wade: At one point there was zero point of talking to anybody. Now, I will always give credit where credit is due. There have been a couple of individuals that have been brought into the system—I have not personally talked with them—that seem to know what is the right thing to do, and they seem to be starting to pay some attention.
However, having said that, you can listen for ages, but until we physically start seeing proper staffing, we might as well be talking to the doorway.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: But what I think I just heard you say was that you thought that it was going to be cancelled and in the end in fact it wasn’t cancelled, that people seem to have listened and said, “Okay, let’s have a re-look at the data”—
Mr. Bruce Wade: I’m hoping that’s the case.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: —and that there was some action in a way that you would want the action to have gone.
What I’m having a bit of a problem dealing with is we’re getting very mixed messages. We’ve heard from a front-line paramedic today who said that there are more paramedics available—he was talking about a different base than you—and he said, “But we have seen the staffing go up for paramedics.” We’ve heard by email from a Thunder Bay fixed-wing pilot—in fact, a whole bunch of fixed-wing pilots—who are saying, “Gee, it’s gotten a whole bunch better,” and I hear you saying “No, it’s gotten worse,” or it hasn’t gotten any better.
Mr. Bruce Wade: It has not gotten better. The fixed-wing aircraft are properly staffed. The medics come in, they’re dispatched on an airplane. The second crew comes in, they’re dispatched on an airplane. There’s no third crew coming in. That helicopter stays grounded.
If you want to look at this book, it shows you every single shift for 2012, and it will show you when there were medics on and when there were no medics for the helicopter. It has not gotten better on the rotary side. The fixed-wing side is great. I think they’re doing a tremendous job; I really do. But we can also do a very admirable job. We can save lives. We can get into places that nobody else can get into.
Just this week, there was a call to a bush scene where it was a co-operative effort with the single medic on the helicopter—a critical care medic by himself—and our two pilots who got that helicopter into a location they should never have been able to go into to get somebody who had an accident and had been out in the bush for hours before being found and got them to a trauma centre. Had that one medic not been turned around on the plane to come back to Thunder Bay, there’s a very strong probability that that individual would have died in the bush.
It’s not gotten better from the rotary perspective. From the fixed-wing side, kudos to my colleagues. They’re doing great work.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: Again, what I think I hear you saying is that when it’s appropriate to dispatch a helicopter, people are making an effort to make sure that the helicopter gets dispatched when it’s necessary to get the helicopter in there.
Mr. Bruce Wade: In that one instance, it just happened to be a situation where they were only 10 minutes away and they could turn the plane around. That’s one example. There are many other examples where we go to the hospital on a call and drop a patient off, and the land medics say, “Why weren’t you guys at the accident on such-and-such a highway last Tuesday? We were there.” We didn’t get a call. We had no medics.
The only way that you can guarantee that the only trauma helicopter in 1,500 kilometres is properly operated and properly utilized is to have the paramedics on board all the time. We need a third crew of medics in Thunder Bay. We don’t need to reduce a shift of medics from the airplanes; we need another shift of medics to staff the third aircraft, which is the helicopter.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: And this is where I’m getting really confused, because in this email that you—now I’m looking at one that you actually sent on Boxing Day, which is the first one that I’ve seen, but there may have been some before that, I don’t know, because as I say, we weren’t getting them. But the first one I’ve seen is one that you sent on Boxing Day to the minister, and in this case copied the opposition. The request at that point was to immediately stop the transfer of Canadian Helicopters’ EMS pilots to the direct employ of Ornge. Then there are several others that I’ve seen that pick up on that theme. To me, that’s something very much different than what you’re saying today, which is not so much who’s managing the helicopters; it’s, are there enough critical care paramedics being trained and hired, and the need to increase the staffing of paramedics—
Mr. Bruce Wade: Well, it’s twofold—
Mrs. Liz Sandals: You keep talking about paramedic staffing—I mean, quite frankly, I don’t care who runs the helicopters, but if we’re trying to sort out as a committee what is the critical problem here, it seems to me that what you keep telling us over and over and over again is: You need another paramedic, you need a 24-hour third crew in Thunder Bay, and that would be your recommendation.
Mr. Bruce Wade: No, it’s twofold: (1) We need paramedics on that helicopter, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. (2) The inability to staff the helicopters with pilots has been exacerbated over the last 12 months as people have left because they don’t want to work for Ornge.
I’m hoping in the long term whatever the committee recommends is listened to on all fronts. I’m hoping that the taxpayer gets the best value. I’m hoping that we are in a situation where, if it’s an outside contractor, they can retain the pilots, and if it’s Ornge, that they can start listening to why people have left. It’s been claimed by one individual that we don’t know why pilots have left us. Well, we’ve been telling them, time and time again.
So I’m not going to sit here and support 100%, Ornge should be operating the helicopters; I’m not going to sit here and support 100%, an outside contractor should employ the helicopters. What I am saying is that it has to be an operator that can engage its staff; it has to be an operator that has an operational history to draw on; it has to be an operator that can maintain, and in fact foster, good relations with its employees.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: And again, what we’re getting is a conflict, from what you’re saying and the other information we’ve seen, because the letter from Poul-Erik Binderup—I believe that’s the pronunciation. He talks about—“In December of last year we watched as the fabric of the Ornge machine began to unravel....” So this is as the story unfolds. And then he talks about—
Mr. Bruce Wade: I think that was as shocking to him as everybody else, quite frankly.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: Yes. And, “The Honourable Deb Matthews’s installation of Mr. Ron McKerlie as interim CEO, and the major corporate restructuring that followed, gave us a sense of hope that we would be able to continue to serve the people of Ontario as medevac pilots.” Then he expresses some concern. He talks about being very pleased with the Pilatus PC-12 and the job they’re able to do, and talks about being very proud of the work that the medevac pilots can do.
Then today, we’ve got another email, which is other pilots responding to his email. I counted them up, and there must be 30 Ornge pilots—
Mr. Bruce Wade: Yes, it would be all the fixed-wing pilots. Sure.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: But we’ve got a whole bunch of happy campers who are pleased that things have turned around, that things have gotten a whole bunch better, and who are willing to sign their name and say so publicly.
This is another Thunder Bay pilot saying, “I ... agree 100% with the above letter written by Captain Poul-Erik Binderup. I would also like to add that I have been involved in aviation since 1989 and I have flown as a medevac pilot on and off since the mid-1990s. It was not better 18 years ago or four years ago. It is better now.
“Ornge fixed-wing has its problems but these problems should not lead to, as some would like, a full shutdown of Ornge Air.
“Going back to the ‘good old days’ of contract air services would not be better nor safer for the citizens of Ontario.”
As I say, there are literally 30 responses here, where pilots, who are agreeing to sign their names, say, “I 100% support this.” “I support your letter to the standing committee.” “I support what this other pilot is saying about how Ornge has turned around and we’re very proud of the work that Ornge does.” So if—
Mr. Bruce Wade: You’re missing a fundamental point: That’s the fixed-wing side. This whole discussion I’ve been having with you has got nothing to do with the fixed-wing operations. The fixed-wing pilots—not all, but the majority of them—are coming into their perhaps second or third job. They’re going to move on somewhere else, into Porter or Jazz or on up the line. The rotor-wing side of the house is a completely different ball game. We’ve got aircraft that are worth $14 million or $15 million. We have a simulator that’s equal in complexity to the aircraft. We have, all totalled, roughly $150 million worth of physical assets sitting there, whether it’s the Sikorsky-76s or the AW139s.
We’re not entry-level pilots here; we are the other end of the industry. We’re top-level pilots. We hold the highest licences in licence categories. We operate complex, multi-engine IFR helicopters in all weather conditions, under all circumstances. For us, there’s only one more move, and that’s not upwards; it’s lateral. It’s lateral into the same type of aircraft to another operation.
For us who are there, who are flying these things, we want to be flying medevac. We don’t want to fly offshore; we have the opportunities. It’s not an entry-level situation. It’s not a second or third job situation; it’s a career decision.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): You have a minute and a half.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: Well—
Mr. Bruce Wade: And I applaud my fixed-wing colleagues. I really do.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: Yes, but if you are saying that Ornge is—I totally get that flying a fixed-wing and flying a rotary are two different skill sets and that there are way more fixed-wing pilots than there are rotary-wing. I get that. I understand that you’re two different skill sets of pilots, but I don’t get, if Ornge is a good employer for some kinds of pilots, why is there an automatic presumption that it’s a bad employer for another set of pilots?
I understand that when Dr. Mazza was there, he was very hard to work for and bullied people and all those things we’ve heard, but he’s not there now.
Mr. Bruce Wade: Which is a good thing.
I think this, let’s call it a friction, comes from the fact that almost all of the structure of Ornge Air is airline- or fixed-wing-operation-related people. There are, to my knowledge, maybe one or two who have any background in helicopters at all, and I don’t know of any—again, I stand to be corrected here—who have any medevac background, with the exception of one individual, who’s the interim operations manager on the rotary side, who comes from our ranks; he’s one of our guys. That’s where a lot of this is coming from, because we understand helicopters. Those other folks understand fixed-wing, but they don’t understand what a helicopter is all about and how to properly use it in this environment.
Again, I’m not saying anything negative about the fixed-wing side; I’m not. They come from some very, very small operations and very suspect type of equipment into something that’s brand new—good equipment. They’re good people. They want to be doing what they’re doing, but a lot of them are going to move elsewhere eventually. On our side, we just want to do our jobs. We want to get out there and save lives.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Very good. Thank you—
Mrs. Liz Sandals: But why can’t the helicopter pilots transition into new equipment and do their jobs?
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Thank you. We’ll move on to the opposition. Mr. Klees, you have nine minutes.
Mr. Frank Klees: Thank you. I appreciate that clarification, Mr. Wade. I think you’ve been very clear about what the issue is.
I also want to refer to this letter from Mr. Binderup. What is somewhat concerning—in his letter, he makes reference to shutting down, or the fact that someone is suggesting that the operation be shut down. No one has ever suggested that. What’s at issue is who manages it and what the competency is of the managers behind the operation.
If somehow there was a message that was spun through the front lines that someone is intent on shutting this operation down, it’s simply not the case. What is the case is that we want to ensure that whoever is managing, whether it’s the fixed-wing or whether it’s the rotor-wing—that it’s done with competency, and that the front line, whether they’re fixed-wing pilots or helicopter pilots, can have the confidence that the organization behind them is able to protect them, to ensure the resources are there, to ensure the training is there, to ensure the maintenance is there. Quite frankly, I think you’ve made it very clear, Mr. Rothfels made it very clear and others have made it very clear that there’s a lack of confidence in the Ornge organization in being able to do that.
There are people who, in this province, have been in that business for many, many years. They have the core competency. I think the question that we have to address is: Does it make more sense to continue to prop up an organization that has proven they don’t have the competency? Or do we go to an organization and offer to have that organization run the operation so that we can get on with delivering the service? I’d just like your reaction to that position.
Mr. Bruce Wade: I agree.
Mr. Frank Klees: I’d like to refer to the minister’s letter to you dated April 2, and first of all express a disappointment that once again we have nice words coming from the Minister of Health: “Thank you,” Mr. Wade, for “your interest.... I am particularly interested in your willingness to serve on the board....” It’s copied to Mr. McKerlie, and that’s the end of it. She refers to the commitment of the government to transparency and accountability.
Mr. Wade, I have on my iPad here a very interesting website. It’s called Aircraft Out of Service Report by Ornge—there it is. I actually got a password for that, which allowed me, up until recently, to go on on a daily basis and determine which aircraft were out of service. When did this stop getting reported?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Out-of-service reports are still entered. They’re entered by shift, daily, by the pilots that are on duty. The information is still going in.
Mr. Frank Klees: Is it available to the public?
Mr. Bruce Wade: I haven’t physically been able to search our service reports in the past couple of months—
Mr. Frank Klees: We can’t get in this anymore, so someone is obviously blocking us.
Mr. Bruce Wade: We can’t see what our downstaff was.
Mr. Frank Klees: Here’s my question: Wouldn’t it be interesting if Ornge actually agreed to make that aircraft out-of-service report totally transparent and public so that people could see for themselves so that this wouldn’t have to be a kind of confidential discussion between backroom people, and we wouldn’t have to discuss or debate how many aircraft were out of service because of paramedic shortages or because of pilot shortages? Because all of that should be on that website. Would you agree?
Mr. Bruce Wade: I would agree that it would be very interesting for the committee as a whole to see that information. Whether it should be in the public domain, I would draw hesitation there. I think I mentioned in my opening remarks that recently it was admitted to that they have a 54% availability rate at a cost that’s no more than the previous vendor. A 54% availability on the medevac system—we’re talking rotary-wing; we’re not talking airplanes here—to me is scary.
Mr. Frank Klees: In other words, 54% of the time they’re available to respond to calls. The rest of the time, regardless of what those calls are—
Mr. Bruce Wade: They’re not available.
Mr. Frank Klees: They’re not available.
Mr. Bruce Wade: For whatever reason: no medics, no pilots, perhaps a mechanical issue.
Mr. Frank Klees: Can you help us to understand what the implication is? Do you have any examples of times when that availability was not there, and the implication, the risk to the patient? Because we’re constantly being told here that patient risk is not an issue, that people—
Mr. Bruce Wade: Quite frankly, if the helicopter is not available because there’s no pilot on it or no paramedics on it, that’s a risk to somebody.
Mr. Frank Klees: Do you have a specific example that you personally are aware of where there was a significant result to a patient, perhaps that a patient died, in terms of your recent experience, because the helicopter was not available?
Mr. Bruce Wade: We would only hear through the land medics that a call that they were on that we were called for—they were asking for our help—went unfilled, because if a call came in to the dispatch centre and we weren’t staffed, we’d never get the call. So you find out these things after the fact, when they ask you at the hospital, “Where were you on such-and-such a day? We were down Highway 61. We had a car rolled over; we needed you. Where were you?” We were sitting at the base with no medics.
So from the actual date or day of an occurrence, unless we were privy to the call information coming in, we wouldn’t even hear about it.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): You have a minute and a half.
Mr. Bruce Wade: I’d like to also wrap this up—we did have an incident a number of years ago where there was a plane crash north of Thunder Bay, approximately for us about a 40-minute flight. We were fuelled, ready to go, and they sent us to Ignace to pick up an inter-facility transfer patient. We were begging, “What about the plane crash?” All we got back from the communications centre was, “It’s unconfirmed.” Well, I’m sorry, but it’s not unconfirmed. Thunder Bay is a major airport. In one case, this particular aircraft that went down was actually a Ministry of Natural Resources contractor who flies as an observation plane or a Bird Dog plane for the air tankers. We knew the plane. We knew where it was. We knew when it was down. We couldn’t go and help.
Mr. Frank Klees: I want to close with this question, then: As a helicopter pilot, you are serving in a provincial air ambulance service. In your opinion, who at the end of the day has ultimate responsibility to ensure oversight of our air ambulance service?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Oh, that would have to fall with the Minister of Health, whoever the minister of the day would be.
Mr. Frank Klees: Thank you.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Thank you very much. We’ll move to the NDP. You have four minutes. That brings everybody up to 25.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: Sure; thank you very much.
Thank you very much for your deputation today. At the tail end of the Liberals’ questioning, a proposition was put to you, but you didn’t get a chance to respond to it because the time had ended. I’d like you to respond to that, just to clarify the difference between why some of the fixed-wing pilots are happy with their circumstances and why that’s not taking into consideration the different circumstances of the rotary-wing pilots. The question was thrown out there in the air, why can’t helicopter pilots transition into the new equipment and why is that difficult? And what’s the difference between the fixed-wing and the rotary-wing situation?
Mr. Bruce Wade: There isn’t a problem transitioning into the new equipment for the pilot. The training is quite comprehensive. It’s terribly expensive as well. You’ve got to realize, these are $125,000 worth of training going into this to transition on to this new aircraft. So it’s a ground school component, then two weeks, approximately 48 to 50 hours, in the simulator. So the transition to the new equipment isn’t a problem. It’s a lot of work, but it should be a lot of work because it’s a very technically advanced aircraft. So there isn’t a problem there.
Now, of course, our bases aren’t going to get it for the foreseeable future, so that has put everything to a grinding halt.
Am I on the wrong—
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: You’re right.
Mr. Bruce Wade: Am I on the wrong track?
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: You’re on the right track, just to answer that question of what’s the difference. You’ve explained some of the difference. One, you’re not going to get the helicopter; and two, the training that’s required is quite expensive.
Mr. Bruce Wade: It is vastly more than the fixed-wing aircraft.
Mme France Gélinas: But also if you can focus as—you came all the way down from Thunder Bay. You’re pretty motivated to see changes. We get this letter from the fixed-wing that says, “Thank you very much; attaboy; good job; we’re so happy.” Then we get you, a pilot with years of experience who takes the time to come down here and tell us, “Come and help us. Things are not good.” How come it could be so different? You’re under the same new management. You’re under the same new rules. Why do we have “attaboy” on one side and on the other side we have you coming here saying, “Help me”?
Mr. Bruce Wade: Well, a lot of our fixed-wing colleagues come from older equipment, perhaps less capable airplanes, into a pretty nice airplane—technically advanced. But a lot of them are also coming in in very junior positions, building their time, building their experience and moving to other operators like WestJet or Porter or the airlines. It’s where most of them want to go—not all; some want to stay with medevac, and kudos for that. So they’re very happy to get an opportunity on a new aircraft type, new navigation types of equipment, technologically more advanced equipment so they can move on to the other operators. And they should be happy because it’s a good opportunity for them. Those who want to make their career and stay also should be happy.
But on the helicopter side, we’re not moving on. We’re at the top end of the industry now, and we want to make sure that the culture to operate properly is there. We want to make sure that all the staffing level is there. We don’t want to see our training eroded as has been evident lately. We want to make sure that we’re using those full-motion simulators. The simulator mentioned in the letter isn’t a true simulator; it’s a flight-training device. It’s a bank of screens; it’s a procedures trainer. You’re not on full motion. You go and do your training and then you do your check ride in the airplane. For us, we’re using simulators that are every bit as complex as a 777 simulator. This is stuff where you could go in and you could train all procedures, all emergencies, all eventualities, right up to the point where you can be certified to fly that aircraft when you come out of the simulator and a full Transport Canada check ride. It’s vastly different between the complexity of the helicopter operation and the simplicity of the fixed-wing operation.
Kudos to them. I think my colleagues on the fixed-wing side are doing some good work. But on the helicopter side, it needs work.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Thank you, and we’ll move to the government for four minutes of questioning.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: Just as a sidebar here so all the committee members understand: Mr. Klees had asked earlier if the minister would be able to return on Thursday from 4:30 to 7. Minister Matthews will be out of the country on Thursday. She was headed in the other direction, but she can make her way back and be here at 5:30. She was headed for London, but she is willing to turn around and be back at 5:30 today. So if you would really like to hear more from Minister Matthews, she will make herself available from 5:30 to 7. Obviously, we need to let her know which direction she should be heading in, east or west.
Mr. Frank Klees: Chair, I think that the minister should turn around and come back. We look forward to seeing her.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: Okay. She will be here at 5:30, then.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Okay, thank you for that. And we still—
Mrs. Liz Sandals: And we still have time.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): You have another three minutes.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: Sorry for that little interruption.
Mr. Bruce Wade: Before you start, I’d like to actually invite all the members of the committee and the minister to come to Thunder Bay and talk to us sometime and see what’s really going on. Listen to people. It shouldn’t be an Ornge propaganda piece. Talk to us on the front lines. Take a random sampling. You’ll hear differing opinion. You’ll hear impassioned pleas. We want to do our jobs.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: I know that Minister Matthews has visited some of the bases, so we will pass that along to her, that she has an invite to Thunder Bay.
You spoke about the concern that helicopter pilots had, which is their expertise at Ornge with respect to helicopters. I take it the majority of the air ambulance helicopter pilots have moved from Canadian Helicopters to Ornge. That sounds to me like that expertise is building. Why this concern that there will be no expertise?
Mr. Bruce Wade: There’s no historical operational experience on the infrastructure that you need behind the scenes to make helicopters operate properly.
My engineering colleagues have told me that they’re always short of spares. I know for certain there was a helicopter on the ramp in Thunder Bay that had been stripped of tail rotors, rotor blades and other components to put parts in another machine.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: This is the old helicopters.
Mr. Bruce Wade: Yes, correct. I’m hearing things from others that—even with the new aircraft, there are some maintenance issues. They don’t have enough parts; they don’t have enough spares. There doesn’t seem to be a supporting infrastructure that has the depth of experience and expertise needed to put all the pieces together. Again, if there is, I don’t see it. I stand to be corrected. But it doesn’t seem that way. We hope, again, that that kind of a culture is there, but we’re just not seeing it.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: Because I know in something I’ve seen, it does discuss the issue of spare parts for helicopters, that being a somewhat different issue than spare parts for fixed-wing. I’m sorry; I don’t know where that piece of paper went through my head, but it is an issue that I believe has been recognized.
I guess I’m just a little bit frustrated that there’s just this, “No, you can’t do it. Fixed-wing can do it, but helicopter can’t.” I’m trying to get a grasp on why—
Mr. Bruce Wade: Well, again, as I said, the bulk of the managerial structure all come from either airline backgrounds or fixed-wing operations of some sort. None of them, except for one individual, perhaps two, come from a helicopter side, and of those one or two individuals, none of them come from the medevac side, so they don’t understand that we’re not a scheduled airline service. We’re not an inter-facility transfer that gets a call to go two hours from now. When we get a call, we go now. We have a 10-minute response time, which we could actually do if we had medics and fuel supply at our base. We don’t even have fuel.
So I don’t think they understand just what helicopters are all about—
Mrs. Liz Sandals: But that’s exactly—
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): And we are out of time.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: Okay. I was just going to say that’s exactly what the medic that we were talking to this morning was talking about: getting on a helicopter, one of the new helicopters, and just having a few minutes to get out of there, once you got the call.
Mr. Bruce Wade: We’re a good team. You should see it work.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: What I heard this morning, in fact, was that team of the paramedic and the helicopter people getting out of there.
Mr. Bruce Wade: Sure.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: Obviously, in London, there was an understanding of this.
Mr. Bruce Wade: But that doesn’t come from the upper echelons of Ornge Air. That comes from the front-line pilots and paramedics who have done this job for years, that are a team, that can get the call, respond, get in the thing and get it airborne and get it to an accident scene in minutes. That’s what we do. That’s not what the administration does. That’s what we do, and that has to be recognized. Whether it’s the fixed-wing pilots responding to their calls—they do a good job. Whether it’s us responding to our calls—we also do a good job, but we can’t do that unless we have proper staffing all the way through, and a supporting cast behind the scenes that understands what we do.
The Chair (Mr. Norm Miller): Thank you very much, Mr. Wade, for taking the time to come down from Thunder Bay to come before the committee. It’s very much appreciated.