Fire departments across the Capital Region are altering their duties in light of COVID-19 after an exposure scare in Oak Bay last week left several firefighters in quarantine.
“Out of an abundance of caution, and based on the best available information, the firefighters self-isolated,” explained Deb Hopkins, information officer at the Emergency Operations Centre, which Oak Bay Fire is helping to operate. “Due to a subsequent risk assessment these firefighters are out of self-isolation. Fire department staffing has remained and will continue to remain at normal levels.”
Still, Oak Bay cancelled any “non-essential interactions” with the public, including education seminars and fire inspections.
Similar actions were taken at other departments, including the Colwood Fire Rescue which has implemented a level 2 change.
“We’ve suspended elective fire safety inspections to limit staff exposures,” explained Colwood Fire Chief John Cassidy. “By not having fire inspectors going into multiple buildings, multiple times per day, it takes away that vector from the community as well.”
In addition, all education and community events have been cancelled, as have department training courses. Meetings have been limited and the front door has been locked to stop public walk-ins. There has also been a reduction in medical aid response for calls that are less serious.
“We are fully aware that this will get worse within our community,” Cassidy said. “We’ll have to make further changes.”
This means going to a level 3 change, something Cassidy forecasts will happen by the end of the week.
“We currently don’t have dorm facilities, but at level 3 we’ll be implementing a dorm facility within our fire hall and amending the paging and call model matrix to limit the number of firefighters to calls and to limit shifts.”
Cassidy added that as more staff face self-isolation, there will be a stronger reliance on neighbouring departments.
Saanich is also at level 2, limiting non-emergency services and operating an Emergency Operations Centre. Additional sanitation measures have been put into place at the station, as well as a review of the protocols currently in place.
“We want people to know that when a firefighter arrives at a house to help them that they are healthy and safe,” said Saanich Fire Chief Dan Woods. “Infectious disease is not just limited to a coronavirus … we have resources, it’s part of our first responder protocols.”
The Victoria Fire Department is also prioritizing its duties.
“We are reviewing our inspection scheduling and responsibly rescheduling any occupancies that are able to be rescheduled in a safe and coordinated manner,” said Victoria Fire Chief Paul Bruce.
The prioritized places for rescheduling include “high risk occupancies” such as hospitals and care homes, since they usually “maintain very good housekeeping and fire prevention practices.”
The Esquimalt Fire Department also reduced its duties as of March 17.