Saying the pandemic has changed everything over the last year likely won’t sound alarm bells for anyone.
What it did do at the regional fire department, however, is actually dampen the number of emergencies – including alarm calls – crews were dispatched to over 12 months.
Fire chief Dan Derby says that, in fact, the total number of responses at Kootenay Boundary Regional Fire Rescue (KBRFR) was down 19 per cent from 2019.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on all our lives and the KBRFR service is no different,” Derby explains. “The drop in calls is directly related to the pandemic and reductions in travel and movement in the spring.”
Figuratively this whittles down to 1,153 calls in 2020, or 265 less call outs from the 1,418 emergencies the crews attended in 2019. Of those rescue responses, the highest number by far (514) is first response emergencies, which has been the trend for the past several years.
These types of calls are generally medical in nature wherein the firefighters maintain the scene until ambulance attendants arrive.
“First response calls are all medical first responder calls,” Derby told the Trail Times.
“Our firefighters are trained to first responder Level III playing a vital role in pre-hospital care.
“First responders/firefighters provide CPR, airway management and basic wound and fracture management until higher level licensed emergency medical assistants arrive on the scene.
“Additionally, some of our members also have specialty swift water, high angle and confined space rescue training. And some of our members are trained to administer naloxone in response to the opioid health emergency.”
After first response calls, next in the top fire department calls of 2020 was responding to alarms (186), also a type of incident that is historically most common.
This was followed by calls to motor vehicle incidents (133), burn complaints (82), smoke (37), public service (36), structure fire (25), and wildland fires (25).
Thrown in the mix is also electrical fire (24), minor outdoor fire (23), hazmat (23), carbon monoxide (12), chimney fire (10), rescue (9), vehicle fire (8) and other (6).
Kootenay Boundary Regional Fire Rescue is a full service department created in 1982 as a regional fire service with six fire stations.
Those six stations, located in Rossland, Warfield, Trail, Montrose, Fruitvale, Genelle, provide overlapping coverage for a large fire protection area protecting approximately 25,000 residents.
The department is a composite fire service made up of paid-on-call and career firefighters that provide fire suppression, rescue, first responder medical and fire prevention services to the region.
In March, in response to the pandemic, first responder medical services were restricted at the fire station, which is housed in the regional district building located in the Trail Gulch.
As well, paid-on-call training was suspended by three months, fire and life safety inspections were curtailed, and access to fire stations was restricted. (and continues to be restricted)
“We have learned a lot and implemented health and safety guidelines/policy to protect our firefighters,” Derby noted in his 2021 work plan.
“With these new procedures in place we have seen a resumption of modified fire and life safety inspections, first responder calls, and training.
“Overall, call volumes are down in 2020 in direct correlation to reduced activity in our communities.”