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

Just Posted

Survey, hotline launched amid probe into racist blood-alcohol guessing game at B.C. hospital

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been appointed to lead an investigation by Health Minister Adrian Dix

B.C. appeals judge’s decision to leave three clubhouses in Hells Angels hands

The province has filed two notices of appeal related to the B.C. Supreme Court decision

Woman who talked to unconscious husband, a Victoria police officer, for 30 years focus of study

Ian Jordan suffered a head injury when he and another officer were on their way to a call in Victoria in September 1987

Vancouver Island pig hogs the limelight by crashing Saturday night party

Central Saanich oinker reunited with owner thanks to missing animal help group

Canadian Ferry Association cautions against politicizing BC Ferry operations

Reasonable safety, not politicized safety way to go, Canadian Ferry Association says

Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police want policing focus of opioid crisis to be replaced with a health one

West Shore RCMP arrests five suspects in multi-jurisdictional drug trafficking investigation

Cocaine, prohibited loaded handgun, weapons, stolen vehicles seized

Conservation officers relocate Spirit bear known to roam northwestern B.C.

Bear roamed valley north of Terrace for many years

Victoria’s Raging Grannies to demonstrate against public funding of for-profit senior homes

Group says COVID-19 has revealed ‘sad state of extended care’ in B.C.

Bacteria levels lead to swimming advisory at Saanich park

Craigflower-Kosapsum Park among regional beaches with swim advisories

B.C. premier applauds call to decriminalize drug possession

Police shouldn’t struggle with health issues, Horgan says

Cumberland keeps pushing for groundwater protection

Council will raise issue with Province again through Union of BC Municipalities

Esquimalt splash pad back in action

Esquimalt Adventure Park reopens July 6

Indigenous leader Ed John pleads not guilty to historical sex charges

Ed John’s lawyer entered the plea by telephone on behalf of his client

Most Read