Coronavirus: Due to lack of equipment, South Okanagan fire department won’t answer medical calls

The Anarchist Mountain Fire Department said it is discontinuing first-responder responses “until such time as provincial supplies and directives will allow us to do so.”. Ajai Sehgal

A small fire department in the South Okanagan says it won’t be responding to medical-related calls due to a lack of personal protective equipment.

The Anarchist Mountain Fire Department, located east of Osoyoos, made the announcement in an open letter via social media on Tuesday.

“Due to the increasing spread of the COVID-19 Virus and the need for the safety of Anarchist Mountain firefighters, we have had to review our response capabilities to medical-related first responder calls,” fire chief Urs Grob said in the letter.

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“There is currently a severe shortage throughout the province of adequate personal protective equipment and without this necessary equipment, our responders are unable to meet the current safety protocols put in place.

“As a result of this, we have no choice but to discontinue first responder responses until such time as provincial supplies and directives will allow us to do so.”

Global News has reached out to the fire department for more information.

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Grob said that all medical emergency calls within the area will still be handled by the B.C. Ambulance Service, and that should you need medical assistance, call 911 to report your emergency.

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“This has not been an easy decision on our part but the safety of our members takes priority,” said Grob. “We will still be responding to all other emergency calls as usual.

“We will continue to monitor this situation very closely and will keep you advised of any changes that may develop.”

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Global News reached out to B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) regarding the fire department’s announcement and asked six question, listed below.

Are you aware of how many fire departments across B.C. are making this change to response protocols?

  • Will it affect patient safety?
  • Will it affect first responders’ abilities to arrive on scene of a medical call quickly?
  • Will this put additional burden on ambulance paramedics?
  • Are paramedics also facing a shortage of personal protective equipment?
  • Has the BC Ambulance Service requested additional supplies?

In response, BCEHS communications officer Shannon Miller said B.C. Ambulance, paramedics, dispatchers and medical emergency call takers are part of a provincial service, and since it’s a provincial service, “our supply chain is secure.”

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The BCEHS also said:

  • BCEHS, BC Ambulance, responds to the emergency medical needs of 4.6 million British Columbians, covering nearly 950,000 square kilometres.
  • As a provincial emergency medical system, we respond to patients across all municipal jurisdictions.
  • BCEHS response to patients is not impacted by individual municipal decisions.
  • We work closely with and appreciate the work of our first responder partners.
  • Each first responder partner agency (the vast majority are local fire departments) determines which types of medical emergencies they are able to respond to and when. We don’t dispatch firefighters, we notify them of certain calls and they decide if they will respond.
  • The first responder program is voluntary, with each local government deciding the level to which their department will participate.
  • All our protective gear is stocked and readily available to our paramedic crews.
  • With a public health emergency declared in BC, the Province has additional powers in terms of supply chains and coordination of resources between all levels of government.

In related news, Penticton’s deputy fire chief said the city currently does not have a supply shortage of first-responder supplies.

Chris Forster said the fire chief will be reviewing response protocols with city council to recommend a response reduction to non-critical medical calls in order to preserve the ability to respond to major fires and other emergencies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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