Those working on the frontlines – including regional firefighters who are also integral first responders for medical calls – are geared up to follow additional safety protocols due to novel coronavirus contagion.
In order to preserve supplies of protective equipment, the latest tweak from the province involves how first responders will be dispatched to emergency calls.
With many calls to 911, dispatchers will usually dispatch both a paramedic and a firefighter to the incident.
Until further notice, firefighters will now only respond to purple colour-coded calls – which are the most urgent calls, typically determined by if a person is not breathing.
There are exceptions, such as if backup is needed by police or fire crews or if paramedics are unable to respond within a certain time frame, or roughly 20 minutes.
Similar measures were taken during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009.
“There have been many changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” began Fire Chief Dan Derby, from Kootenay Boundary Regional Fire Rescue.
“The changes are all focused on doing everything we can to protect firefighters from exposure to the COVID-19 and maintain capacity to deliver fire rescue services.”
To protect firefighters and try to reduce the spread of the virus, on March 16, all Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) fire stations were closed to the public.
Fire practice, scheduled training courses, exams and evaluations at paid-on-call and volunteer fire stations have also been curtailed.
Instead, members are being offered online training as a way to stay engaged.
All these changes, however, have no effect on delivery of fire rescue services.
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 virus spread and then pandemic, we have initiated stringent personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements to protect responders from exposures to contagions,” Derby explained.
“PPE is in short supply globally, we have enough inventory for at least 30 days and have shared some out to neighbouring fire services.”
To help with the shortage, last month Austin Engineering started printing face shields on their 3D printer for health care workers and first responders in the Kootenays.
“This was the PPE we had the least of,” Derby said.
“And we are so thankful for their generosity to provide these face shields to protect the women and men that deliver our fire rescue services, well done!”
The department has also introduced new protocols on how members interact with patients to ensure that the care required is balanced against the safety of firefighters.
“The intent is to minimize exposure points, preserve PPE, minimize the risk to first responders, patients and the broader community,” said Derby.
“We are focused on doing everything we can to maintain capacity to deliver fire rescue and first responder medical services respecting the parameters of the provincial health orders.”
Fire Chief Derby oversees the fire department of 14 career fire fighters and approximately 140 paid on-call firefighters.
RDKB fire protection and prevention services are provided to approximately 25,000 citizens of the cities of Trail and Rossland, the Villages of Warfield, Montrose, Fruitvale, and Areas A & B of the Kootenay Boundary Regional District.
Chief Derby is also president of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia.