Ambulance strike concern for mayor as first big snow hits Newfoundland


People in parts of eastern Newfoundland got a good workout Sunday morning shoveling knee-deep snow.

A winter storm raged Friday night, dumping up to 20 inches of heavy, wet snow on parts of the island’s Avalon Peninsula.

Although it was the first major storm to hit the area in two years, Conception Bay South Mayor Darrin Bent said people in his community had the equipment to weather it.

“You can hear the snowplows in stereo pretty much anywhere you go,” Bent said in an interview from the town, which is about 20 miles west of St. John’s.

Plus, he said, in true Newfoundland fashion, there are two days of rain forecast to begin Monday afternoon.

“We’ll dig, we’ll persevere and we’ll all be back to work on Monday to wait and see how heavy the rain will be on Tuesday.”

The snow started Friday night and abated Saturday morning, only to start again Saturday afternoon and intensify overnight. Strong winds in downtown St. John’s sent gusts blowing in all directions, and the town’s rowhomes were covered in streaks of packed snow as the sun rose Sunday.

The LSPU Hall, which is the main theater in the city centre, announced on Facebook that it was canceling its Sunday night show “due to the huge pile of snow thrown all over our driveways and driveways.”

Kelly Butt, a severe weather observer for Environment Canada, said in a tweet that more than 52 centimeters of snow had fallen on the eastern end of St. John as of 6:30 a.m. Radar at St. John International Airport recorded 48 centimeters, he said.

The storm capped off an unusually snow-free December; Environment Canada meteorologist Robert Grove said the city saw just two inches of snow last month, well below average.

The federal weather agency warned people to stay off the roads Saturday night, and Bent said most complied. The advice was particularly pressing in Conception Bay South, where an ongoing ambulance strike had reduced services.

“It was a primary concern,” Bent said. “And it remains a serious concern. Ambulance wait times in Conception Bay South have been a concern for a long time.”

Firefighters can respond to medical emergencies and provide basic emergency care, including oxygen and CPR. “But that’s it,” said Bent.

About 120 workers with seven private ambulance services owned by Fewer’s Ambulance Service walked off the job Friday afternoon in search of higher wages and a better pension plan. The company is financed for its services by the provincial government.

Newfoundland communities immediately affected by the strike include Stephenville, Fogo, Gambo, Bonavista, Conception Bay South, Holyrood and Trepassey.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey called an emergency meeting of the legislature on Saturday night to discuss a bill that would make private ambulance services essential. That meeting will begin on Monday at 10 a.m.

“I hope it’s a step in the right direction,” Bent said. “I am pleased to hear that the Prime Minister has taken this action and I hope it will lead to a speedy end to this dispute.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 22, 2023.

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