(Photo: Shane MacKichan)

Thank you frontline workers

SALUTE: Surrey’s firefighters are a ‘resilient bunch’

Fire chief says morale is good as department adapts to meet challenges while staying safe on the job

The Surrey Now-Leader published a special tribute to frontline workers in its Thursday, April 30th edition. This story focuses on Surrey firefighters. Click here to see the whole section.

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Surrey Fire Chief Larry Thomas says things are looking up for the department despite several of its trucks being temporarily out of commission last month, as well as travel isolations, contact isolations and symptom-related isolations among the 346 firefighters.

The department’s strength was at about 87 per cent in the last week of March.

“We’re at 96 per cent now, probably better than normal,” Thomas told the Now-Leader. Now, he said, things are “going really well, attendance is better than ever.

“I guess with people not traveling, and all the different restrictions that are in place, people aren’t getting sick or injured as much, so we’re doing quite well.”

Surrey Fire Chief Larry Thomas. (Surrey Fire Service photo)

Asked if the department has recently had to park any fire trucks like before, Thomas replied, “No, none of that.

“It was a little temporary blip for probably about five to 10 days in total,” he said. “There was a peak of the isolations and then now things are pretty much normal in terms of staffing capacity.”

Obviously, with a pandemic comes challenges to which the fire department is not immune. But there have also been some positive developments, in spite of COVID-19.

“Well, there’s been reduced call volume, generally,” Thomas noted. “There’s less people on the road so there’s fewer motor vehicle collisions. The provincial health officer removed firefighters from most medical call responses, so that’s had a significant drop in workload. So, we adapt. We’re focusing on our fire prevention community reduction initiatives, and keep crews busy working on those items.”

Thomas says Surrey’s firefighters are a “good resilient bunch.

“They have adapted really well to the conditions, so they have their mechanisms in place to make sure everyone’s healthy that comes to work. They have their cleaning processes down to a science now.”

The firefighters wear gloves and masks, Thomas said, depending on the nature of the call they are being dispatched to.

“We adjust the numbers of people that can be exposed at all call types. If there’s a chance where they’ll be in close contact with a person then they have proper gear, same as paramedics.”

Earlier this month, the BC Center for Disease Control made recommendations to the provincial Ministry of Environment and Climate Change concerning air quality and COVID-19, and as a result all burning permits issued by Surrey Fire Service have been suspended and all open burning is now banned in Surrey. Asked if people are abiding by the restriction, Thomas replied that for the most part, they are. That said, there has been a “slight increase” in the number of burning complaints coming in.


Surrey firefighters tackle a house fire in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

“But the normal rules are you do all your yard or farm burning before the end of April, so I think the increase might be in those places that are just trying to get it done,” he said. “We did have a lot of burning permits issued that were cancelled, on the orders of the province, so when we get complaints we go deal with them. People are mostly, I would say, compliant once they understand the circumstances.”

So, has anybody been banging pots and pans outside of Surrey’s fire halls lately?

“Not that I’m aware of,” Thomas chuckled.

“We’ve told the crews if they want to participate in the 7 o’clock salute to health care workers they can pull the truck out in front of the hall and put the lights on, but we’re avoiding the use of sirens, because they’re quite loud and not everyone appreciates that.”

So morale is good, despite the pandemic?

“I believe so,” Thomas said. “They seem very positive, they appreciate all the communication that’s coming down, keeping the appraised of what changes are going on related to the provincial COVID response. From my perspective, it seems pretty good. I think from a big perspective, the fire department would be reminding people to still listen to what the provincial health directions are and that this is going to be a longer-term event, until they get a vaccine. We need to maintain our diligence to keep the community spread down low. Hopefully it looks like that’s where it’s going.”

Battalion Chief Brian Carmichael echoed that.

“For the most part it feels like people are pretty grateful for the efforts,” Carmichael told the Now-Leader. “We’re trying to be as careful as we can, and use all the safety equipment that’s available to us. These are uncharted times, as you know. We’re just trying to do the best we can under the circumstances.”


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