Central Saanich and Sidney fire crews responded to a fire in the 6300-block of Central Saanich Road on April 16. During the past two months, the region has seen a number of structure fires. (Central Saanich Fire/Twitter)

Sidney fire responds to fewer but more severe calls during pandemic

Rise in severity linked to changes in routine during COVID-19 pandemic

Sidney’s fire department has responded to fewer but more severe calls during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is the message from Brett Mikkelsen, chief of the Sidney Volunteer Fire Department and Emergency Management Coordinator.

“The actual total number of responses is down significantly,” he said. “The number of actual structure fire events and higher acuity calls are significantly up. So we are doing less calls, but the calls are much more exciting, let’s say.”

The lack of personal protection equipment meant that the fire department was no longer responding to medical aid calls along side ambulance crews unless calls involved a cardiac arrest or a narcotic overdose, said Mikkelsen. “That was about 50 per cent of our calls,” he said, adding these restrictions will be relaxed in the near future.

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Significant calls during the pandemic have included several structure fires, in Sidney and elsewhere on Saanich Peninsula, by way of the department’s mutual aide agreements with North Saanich and Central Saanich.

Perhaps the most significant was the incident at North Saanich Marina on May 10 that killed one man in his 50s and injured two more individuals following an explosion and fire on a boat.

RELATED: Police believe North Saanich marina fire that killed man in his 50s started on boat

So what accounts for the heightened severity of calls? While Mikkelsen says the answer to that question requires more research, one possibility might be that the pandemic has changed people’s routines.

“We did a fire in a suite in Sidney where an elderly lady decided to bake bread,” he said. “It was the first time she had baked bread in 40 years, because she was out of her routine. So when people get out of their routine, they start doing different things. I don’t know how scientific that is, but appears to be the prevailing wisdom.”

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