Vancouvers 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 CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus spreads.
“Were 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 departments capacity to respond to fires and other emergencies as pressure mounts on the system.
“Theres actually a lot of science behind triage, its 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, its 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.
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 theyve 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.
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 CCP virus.
“We are this week rolling out a whole new series of kits, were calling them COVID kits, in heat-sealed bags and were putting them in all our response vehicles,” Meldrum said.
“If the firefighters through screening understand they need to protect themselves theyll 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.