There is a heightened awareness at both the Township of Langley fire department and Langley City Fire Rescue Service since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, but both crews are prepared to weather the storm.
Scott Kennedy, acting fire chief for the City, has been with the department since the start of his career in 1984, and like the rest of Langley, is new to navigating this crisis.
“Generally, I am quite happy with how both locally and provincially we’re responding to this. I think the information flow has been good. It’s a new experience for all of us,” he noted.
Since the province implemented social-distancing the Langley City firehall has undergone some changes. It is no longer open to visitors and is compartmentalized for office staff and fire crews to reduce cross contamination.
There is also a more “stringent cleaning schedule” in place.
“We try not to cross into each others areas as much as possible out of abundance of caution,” Kennedy said.
Like frontline healthcare staff, firefighters are fitted for personal protective equipment (PPE) to help reduce the spread of virus.
Availability of PPEs has been at the forefront during question period at many briefings provided by provincial health officials.
“There’s probably more PPE that we’re using in abundance of caution and a lot more questioning going on before getting into a patient’s personal space, within that six-foot range, before starting any treatment,” Kennedy explained.
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But despite City firefighters increased use of PPE during the ongoing provincial state of emergency, availability of equipment is not an area of concern for City firefighters seeing as the department has an “adequate” supply and more on order.
PPE equipment can vary but may include a N-95 mask, goggles, face shields, gloves, or a full Tyvek body suit with a hood for higher risk situations.
“Anytime we are attending a patient for a medical condition we will do a basic level of PPE and then based on the information we… update there [at the scene],” Kennedy said. “If we don’t get any information [from dispatch about the patient], if there is any sense that we don’t know exactly what we’re going into – full PPE.”
But in an effort to reduce the “burn rate” of PPE and to protect fire responders provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry implemented a change in the types of calls to which firefighters can be dispatched.
“The protocol change said fire departments and first responders will now only respond to the most serious, life-threatening calls out there in conjunction with BC Ambulance,” Kennedy explained.
Unlike a recent scare Township fire faced, when Fraser Health alerted the department some crews may have been exposed to COVID-19, Langley City fire crews has not had any cases.
“We’ve all put contingency plans in place on how we would react to the fact that if there was some form of exposure like Langley Township went through and what they did to deal with that situation,” Kennedy said.
In early March, eight Township firefighters responded to a Langley residence for a medical call. Later, they learned the man the crew was assisting tested positive for COVID-19.
The firefighters were directed to self-isolate and by the end of the month were all permitted to return to duty.
It is the only known case of COVID-19 exposure within Township fire, fire chief Stephen Gamble told the Langley Advance Times.
Since the stay-at-home directive has been put in place by the province, the Township fire department has seen a reduction in call volume and a notable drop in fewer motor vehicle incidents, said Gamble.
“The nice thing for the public is that it means they’re not requiring our services,” he added.
Gamble has been with Township fire since 2011 when he assumed his current position of chief, but he first entered fire service in 1978 as a volunteer firefighter in a neighbouring municipality.
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Like City firefighters, Township crews also dawn PPE when assisting a patient at a scene. Crews learn what equipment is appropriate by asking a series of questions.
“Then we would take the appropriate steps to make sure we’re all geared up properly,” Gamble said.
Township crews are “well stocked” with PPE as the department saw its “burn rate” decline with Dr. Henry’s call to a change the type of calls crews attend.
To help curb the spread of virus Township firehalls are also closed to visitors.
“I hope people are really listening to the advice from the health officials… and just follow what they’re saying. I think we’ll definitely flatten this or even bend the curve right down so that we can get back to some sort of normal life.”