Saanich firefighters are still waiting for their COVID-19 vaccines despite working on the frontlines and some members are expressing concern.
On Tuesday, Asst. Deputy Chief Rob Heppell told Black Press Media that Island Health has not notified the Saanich Fire Department when firefighters will be eligible for vaccines outside of the age-related registration process.
This is what keeps Fire Chiefs up at night!
An outbreak in one of our Fire Stations would be devastating!
First Responders resources are stretched and now is the time to back them up!#community #safety https://t.co/LRXH3Imfhn
— Dan Wood 🇨🇦 (@firechiefwood) April 13, 2021
Health authorities are “targetting areas where there’s a high incidence of COVID-19” and the Saanich Fire Department has been fortunate in that there have been no exposures among members, he said.
To protect staff, the department implemented increased cleaning protocols, social distancing and personal protective gear requirements, and established a fourth temporary fire station at the Pearkes Recreation Centre.
However, while the efforts have kept members healthy, it’s meant their risk appears low and therefore they’re not being prioritized for vaccines – despite responding to emergencies involving positive COVID-19 cases.
Everyone who responds to known Covid or may even remotely come across Covid-19 in their office…Optometrists, RMT’s etc have been vaccinated. Our FF’s who respond to known or possible Covid calls have not. #covid19bc @VanIslandHealth
— Brock Henson (@Brock_Henson) April 18, 2021
The department has reached out to Dr. Richard Stanwick, chief medical health officer for Island Health, to request Saanich firefighters be vaccinated, but no updates were available as of April 20.
There’s some frustration among members and firefighters are looking forward to getting vaccinated, Heppell said.
Saanich firefighters aren’t alone as other departments in the region – and across the country – are also waiting for their vaccines.
On April 12, Fire Chief Joe Zatylny of the Edmonton Fire Rescue Services shared on Twitter that 65 of the department’s 1,300 members had tested positive for COVID-19 leading to some 4,500 absences and making service delivery challenging. Saanich Deputy Fire Chief Dan Wood responded to the post noting this is what keeps fire chiefs up at night because an outbreak at a fire station would be devastating. He added resources are already stretched thin and this is the time to provide first responders with protection.
Firefighters need to be vaccinated; they have an inherently dangerous and unpredictable job working with the public including our most vulnerable. Vaccinating firefighters is a tool that will make our first responders safer and protect the public from the #COVID19 pandemic. (1/4) pic.twitter.com/6s4JYIiYNy
— Joe Zatylny (@yegfirechief) April 12, 2021
On April 20, Port Moody Fire Chief Ron Coulson also expressed concerns, as Fraser Health has yet to provide vaccines for firefighters and “an outbreak would decimate (their) ability to respond.”
For now, Saanich firefighters are waiting their turn to register for vaccines per the province’s age-based schedule.
“We’re hanging in there,” Heppell said, adding he’s proud of members’ patience and resilience throughout the pandemic.
Agreed and Provincially through healthcare regions
Instead of this random allocation of “left over” no waste vaccination calls to some Fire and Police agencies @islandhealth @PHSAofBC #frontline #responders https://t.co/RK3Tv6SciV
— Dan Wood 🇨🇦 (@firechiefwood) April 20, 2021