Efforts to protect firefighters and from coronavirus spread could limits Nanaimo Fire Rescue response to a fraction of its normal volume of medical aid calls, Nanaimo Fire Rescue Chief Karen Fry reported to city council Wednesday. (News Bulletin file photo)

Firefighters ordered to steer clear of most medical aid calls during COVID-19 pandemic

New provincial directive restricts Nanaimo Fire Rescue response to most serious medical aid calls

COVID-19 countermeasures could cut fire department medical aid calls by more than 90 per cent.

In normal circumstances, the vast majority of responses by Nanaimo’s firefighters are for medical assistance, but that’s no longer the case under coronavirus protocols.

Nanaimo Fire Rescue Chief Karen Fry said in her report to city council Wednesday the fire department’s top priority is to keep firefighters healthy and on the job by preventing them from getting sick.

“Our priority is to reduce the risk and protect our first responders, first and foremost, and then to protect our community and save lives and property,” Fry said.

Under efforts to control the spread of coronavirus, operational orders and directives from health authorities are changing daily, which alter how firefighters respond to emergencies.

“[On March 31] we saw an order come through from the medical health officer, so my original report to you has now been changed again,” Fry said. “Effective today, our reduction to medical responses, through a provincial order, we’ll be lowering to the most critical and, what they indicate as purple calls.”

A ‘purple’ call represents the most serious category of B.C. Emergency Health Services responses, indicating an immediately life-threatening condition such as cardiac arrest.

“With that we will probably see an immediate reduction in of about 94 per cent less medical responses in the coming weeks as this progress,” Fry said.

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Nanaimo Fire Rescue is still responding to all fires, alarms, investigations, motor vehicle accidents, burning complaints and firefighters are continuing to install smoke alarms.

“We will continue to do that,” Fry said. “For us that is an essential and critical service to our community. We need to protect our community, not only from COVID-19, but from all other hazards that may be presented to them.”

Routine regular fire inspections that aren’t mandatory at this time for businesses – many of which are closed anyway – are being postponed. Updated information about fire code compliance is available online on the City of Nanaimo website.

Outdoor burning, normally allowed in April on properties larger than 0.4 hectares, has been banned in Nanaimo and on Protection Island to keep air clear for people who might be especially vulnerable at this time because of respiratory conditions, including those from COVID-19.

Fry said Nanaimo Fire Rescue currently has two months’ worth of personal protective equipment supplies and that could extend with the fire department’s new lowered medical aid response directive.

Firefighter training has been minimized or moved online for Nanaimo firefighters and clients of Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s training academy.

Fry also asked that gifts being made to show support for first responders, be given to charities instead.

“I just wanted to thank the community. We’ve had a lot of support shown for first responders … in general there’s a lot of generosity out there,” Fry said. “For example, people would like to give gifts or discounts to the fire service, but our position is that we would rather see you giving to some of the charities that are really hurting right now in our community.”

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