British Columbia Emergency Health Services conducted professional emergency response training for patients exposed with the Coronavirus at Kelowna General Hospital on Mar. 5, 2020. (Contributed)

First responders adjust how they respond to emergencies in face of pandemic

COVID-19 calls may evolve to become top-priority medical calls

Vancouver’s fire department is preparing to stop responding to the site of non-critical medical calls to preserve its ability to respond to major fires and other emergencies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fire Chief Darrell Reid told a news conference this week the department is looking at changing its service model, in a move representing one of many ways emergency response across the country is evolving as the novel coronavirus spreads.

“We’re triaging ourselves to maximize our ability to stay resilient for a long term,” Reid said.

The experience of other countries around the world illustrates that COVID-19 calls may evolve to become top-priority medical calls, Reid said. Firefighters understand they still play a role in the health-care system, particularly in urgent cases, and are prepared to respond to those as need.

But the idea is to preserve the fire department’s capacity to respond to fires and other emergencies as pressure mounts on the system.

READ MORE: Langley firefighters in self-isolation after COVID-19 exposure

“There’s actually a lot of science behind triage, it’s literally a scoring system based on the severity of calls,” Reid said.

British Columbia Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said the province is already seeing retired first responders step up and offer to help in case they are need.

Beyond abiding by directives made by public health officials, it’s up to local emergency units to make their own decisions about adjusting service models depending on the size of a detachment, its schedules and the situation in a particular region, he said.

READ MORE: B.C. paramedics conduct coronavirus training

Other fire departments are taking similar measures.

In Halifax, Deputy Chief Dave Meldrum said the fire department is asking firefighters to avoid non-essential travel outside the province and to self-isolate even if they’ve returned to Nova Scotia in the past two weeks.

And while four firefighters used to respond to calls together, only two will touch a medical patient directly now.

When arriving at a call, one firefighter will interview those in the household about travel history and symptoms using a screening tool from a distance of six feet away. If a risk is identified, they will don protective gear before entering, he said.

READ MORE: B.C. adapts testing strategy for COVID-19

The fire department already has 95 disposable respirators, protective eye wear, gowns and gloves but are introducing new kits tailored to protect frontline responders against the virus.

“We are this week rolling out a whole new series of kits, we’re calling them COVID kits, in heat-sealed bags and we’re putting them in all our response vehicles,” Meldrum said.

“If the firefighters through screening understand they need to protect themselves they’ll rip those bags open and protect themselves appropriately.”

For now, emergency calls are being sorted through the dispatch service and firefighters are not being directed to respond to potential COVID-19 medical calls, he said.

Others are not predicting an increase in emergency medical calls related to COVID-19.

Alberta’s chief paramedic, Darren Sandbeck, said since the pandemic began, paramedics have actually seen a slight decrease in emergency calls as most questions about the virus go through the 811 medical helpline.

Paramedics are prepared to protect themselves with similar protective gear in case they do respond to coronavirus calls, he said.

Some RCMP detachments across Canada are reducing or suspending certain front-counter services and others normally offered in their offices, in consultation with local authorities.

But the Mounties national headquarters said the pandemic is not affecting how police respond to emergencies.

“There has been no change to the RCMP’s response to critical and emergency matters,” spokeswoman Catherine Fortin in a statement.

The RCMP has plans for national and divisional emergency operations related to health emergencies, as well as business continuity plans. These plans will be activated if and when required, she said.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19: One more death reported in central zone

Number of active cases has decreased by more than 200 since last week

County residents and businesses will pay the price of Province’s proposed oil and gas assessment models

If approved, the changes would significantly impact residents and businesses in Lacombe County

Sylvan Lake welcomes three new family doctors

The three doctors are practicing at the Sylvan Family Health Centre and are accepting new patients

Sylvan Lake beach crowded but people maintaining distance

‘A quick picture may give you the impression that everybody is crowded together’

Protestors for Indigenous Lives Matter gather in Wetaskiwin

Protestors gathered along 56 St Wetaskiwin, Alta. August 4, 2020 for Indigenous Lives Matter.

Piscotty hits A’s 2nd walkoff slam this year, beats Rangers

Piscotty hits A’s 2nd walkoff slam this year, beats Rangers

McDavid gets first playoff hat trick, Oilers beat Chicago 6-3 in NHL qualifiers

McDavid gets first playoff hat trick, Oilers beat Chicago 6-3 in NHL qualifiers

Triumphant return for retooled Marlins, who beat Orioles 4-0

Triumphant return for retooled Marlins, who beat Orioles 4-0

Aho, Reimer help Hurricanes beat Rangers 4-1 for sweep

Aho, Reimer help Hurricanes beat Rangers 4-1 for sweep

Emerging young stars stand out at MLS tournament

Emerging young stars stand out at MLS tournament

Leafs solve Korpisalo, but lose Muzzin as Toronto evens series with Columbus 1-1

Leafs solve Korpisalo, but lose Muzzin as Toronto evens series with Columbus 1-1

Calgary Flames take 2-1 series lead with 6-2 win over Winnipeg Jets

Calgary Flames take 2-1 series lead with 6-2 win over Winnipeg Jets

Riley’s 3-run homer helps Fried, Braves beat Blue Jays 10-1

Riley’s 3-run homer helps Fried, Braves beat Blue Jays 10-1

Most Read