Shuswap fire departments are taking steps to protect their members and the public from the COVID-19 virus.
Salmon Arm Fire Chief Brad Shirley said his department’s response to the pandemic is largely guided by information and advice from the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C. He said the provincial association has set up a COVID-19 task force to offer guidance for responding to situations involving vulnerable people such as emergencies at care homes, and has also helped the Salmon Arm department acquire a good supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) amidst shortages.
Shirley said the Salmon Arm department has cancelled their weekly practice and postponed other fire department activities like guest speakers and training exercises in an effort to limit contact and ensure the firefighters stay healthy. He added that a plan is in place for mutual aid in the event that either the Salmon Arm Department or neighbouring Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) firehalls find themselves short on firefighters due to the virus.
The CSRD departments are still responding to all calls for service but have made some changes to their procedures.
According to the regional district, firefighters are taking extra precautions with hand washing and protective equipment. A release from the CSRD states cleaning and disinfection efforts have been increased for equipment, trucks and fire halls.They are also maintaining physical distance wherever possible.
The departments halted their weekly practices beginning on March 17; the regional district stated that while regular practices are important, their firefighters are well trained and can take several weeks away without any fear of losing skills.
Contact with people who may be carrying COVID-19 is already limited for CSRD firefighters as their mandate is primarily to respond to structure fires, while other agencies primarily handle medical emergencies and road rescues requiring extrication from a vehicle.
When not responding to an emergency, the CSRD has asked their firefighters to limit unnecessary contact with others to ensure they are healthy and ready when needed.
The Sicamous Fire Department is also suspending in-person training for the time being, but Chief Brett Ogino said they have come up with an online alternative that was well received by the Sicamous Firefighters.
In regards to protective equipment, Ogino said there have been challenges created by people panic buying, but the department has a good supply of N95 masks leftover from wildfire season. He said they are hoping for some help from Emergency Management BC on the supply front, but local suppliers have been a great help in ensuring the department has what it needs.
Ogino reminded the public to be responsible as they get into spring burning of yard waste so the fire department isn’t responding to calls that could be easily avoided.