The coronavirus pandemic has forced many operations locally and nationally to enhance safety procedures and Oshawa Fire Services is one of them.
But while steps have been taken, some firefighters still feel more needs to be done.
Oshawa fire Chief Derrick Clark remembers what it was like being on the front line during the SARS outbreak. New protocols were put in place and now, the service has revamped them.
“We’ve enhanced PPE (personal protective equipment), we have cleaning regimens in all the stations, we’ve isolated staff so there’s no cross-contamination, we’ve looked at numerous reductions in duties, we’ve closed our stations to the public, we do screening every day of all our staff, and that includes recording temperatures,” said Clark.
Day to day, call after call, firefighters are coming in close contact with the public.
Some have tested positive in Toronto and other parts of the GTA.
In Oshawa, they have an infectious disease control system in place.
“I think collectively, everyone is doing a great job to ensure that anyone that has to be exposed is limited and so far, as I said, we haven’t had any confirmed positive cases,” said Clark.
Despite the new procedures, Oshawa Professional Firefighters Association president Peter Dyson wants to see more done to protect firefighters.
“When we go into people’s houses, whether it’s for a CO (carbon monoxide) alarm call, for a medical call, show up at a car accident or go to a fire, we don’t know what people have, we don’t know whether we’re entering an environment with COVID-19,” said Dyson.
Dyson hopes to see priority testing for the 161 firefighters and advanced access to a vaccine when one becomes available.
“We’re wearing different PPE — you’ll see us wearing gowns and gloves, goggles and face shields when we show up to calls,” Dyson said. “Right now we have enough PPE but I think like every other front-line health-care worker, we’re concerned about tomorrow, we’re concerned about next week, next month.”
Oshawa Fire Services responded to over 5,000 calls last year. Over 200 were for fires and most of them for medical purposes.
Since the pandemic started, the call volume has gone up 16 per cent.
“Screening is paramount and then once we identify somebody, we have proper use of PPE and we go to the fullest. There’s nothing we will stop short of to protect our firefighters if we have to,” said Clark.
“As firefighters, we’re continuing to go to work. We’re always going to continue going in to work. We’re asking the community to stay home for us as we keep going to work for them.”