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

B.C. firefighters only responding to most life-threatening calls during COVID-19 pandemic

The directive comes after province spoke with paramedics, fire services, according to top doctor

‘An extra $220 every 90 days’: B.C. patients pay more dispensing fees due to prescription limits

Kelowna woman says it’s outrageous to charge for refills every 30 days

Over 440 complaints issued in 3 months about Central Kootenay governments: B.C. Ombudsperson

Most common complaints were about decisions and bylaw enforcement in local governments

Trail medical lab makes changes amid pandemic

Rossland and Salmo clinics are not seeing immunocompromised or suspect/symptomatic patients.

New city hall, four-storey development proposed for Rossland

The building would include 37 affordable housing units

QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Take this test and find out how well you know Canada’s most popular winter sport

QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Take this test and find out how well you know Canada’s most popular winter sport

Researchers look at humidity as a weapon in the fight against airborne viruses

Regular hand washing, physical distancing and PPE for health care workers remains best line of defense

Two inmates found positive for COVID-19 at federal prison in B.C.; other tests pending

15 staff self-isolating waiting results, refusal to work notice sent, says correctional officer

Critic, workers’ group ‘disappointed’ Trudeau chose Amazon to distribute PPE

Amazon Canada said in an email to The Canadian Press that it is working with Canada Post, Purolator

Full World COVID-19 update: National Guard collect ventilators in New York; Spain, Italy improve

Comprehensive coronavirus update with news from around the world.

Two people fined after B.C. police spot online ads re-selling 5,000 surgical, N95 masks

Police confiscated the masks, being sold at inflated prices, and now working with Fraser Health

General exposure to public low after inmate tests positive for COVID-19: Interior Health

The Okanagan Correctional Centre inmate is receiving appropriate care

Most Read