The first responder dispatch protocol was also rolled out during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009. (Black Press Media files)

The first responder dispatch protocol was also rolled out during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009. (Black Press Media files)

B.C. firefighters only responding to most life-threatening calls during COVID-19 pandemic

The directive comes after province spoke with paramedics, fire services, according to top doctor

B.C. firefighters have been directed by the provincial health officer to only respond to the most life-threatening medical calls, in the latest move to limit the possibility of COVID-19 transmission between first responders and the public.

The implementation of the first responder dispatch protocol is to minimize risk to non-paramedic first responders while also limiting the amount of personal protective equipment being used, according to Dr. Bonnie Henry, who announced the new measure on Tuesday (March 31).

Personal protective equipment includes n95 face masks or face shields, medical-grade gloves and gowns.

“During a pandemic, when we know that personal protective equipment is so important for our health-care workers and for our paramedics, we want to avoid exposing as many first responders as possible,” Henry said.

ALSO READ: Do you think you have COVID-19? Here is what to do next

With many calls to 911, dispatchers will usually dispatch both a paramedic and a firefighter to the incident. Until further notice, firefighters will now only respond to purple colour-coded calls – which are the most urgent calls, typically determined by if a person is not breathing. There are exceptions, such as if backup is needed by police or fire crews or if paramedics are unable to respond within a certain time frame, or roughly 20 minutes.

Similar measures were taken during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009.

Firefighters in larger communities have spent much of the last four years assisting paramedics in responding to overdose calls, serving on the front lines of B.C.’s first – and still ongoing – provincial health emergency.

In 2019, there were 24,166 overdose-related calls made to 911 across B.C., an average of 66 calls each day, according to BC Emergency Health Services data.

Because those calls often are designated as red colour-coded calls within the computer-automated dispatch system, concerns have been raised that this new protocol could cause delays in response times to overdoses, especially in Vancouver where a lion’s share of fatal overdoses have occurred.

On Saturday (April 4), Henry explained that the change derived from discussions with BC EHS, paramedics and fire services and concerns of ensuring the safety of all first responders.

READ MORE: How B.C. paramedics are responding to COVID-19

“It reflects the reality on the ground that we want the paramedics to be available for these calls and we want to ensure that everybody who’s at the calls that are needed have the personal protective equipment that they need,” she reiterated, adding that there is an ambulance station in the Downtown Eastside able to respond to red colour-coded calls.

Meanwhile, other emergency events such as car crashes have seemingly lessened as people remain close to home, Henry added.

According to Health Minister Adrian Dix, as HealthLink BC staff have worked call wait times on the 811 non-emergency line down to one minute or less, paramedics have been dealing with many more influenza-related calls than usual.

On March 23, BC EHS responded to 331 such calls. On March 30, paramedics responded 1,333 overall calls, with 294 of those regarding influenza-like symptoms.

The normal average is 1,540 calls.

Health officials have urged anyone who is feeling symptoms related to COVID-19, including a fever, dry cough or fatigue, to call 811 or use the online assessment tool. Anyone feeling difficulty breathing is advised to call 911.


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirusfirefighters

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia’s (CFSEU-BC) Uniform Gang Enforcement Team (UGET) has arrested a man who was on the run for nearly a decade. (File photo)
9-year search for international drug trafficking suspect ends with arrest at YVR

Khamla Wong, charged in 2012, taken into custody Feb. 24 by BC-CFSEU

Pixabay image
Surrey council moves to update city’s telecommunication antennas policy

But councillor says health and safety protocols are nearly 40 years old

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum speaks at a press conference in August about provincial government approval of the city’s change to a municipal force, joined by councillors (from left) Mandeep Nagra, Allison Patton and Doug Elford. Members of the National Police Federation claim there is still no transition plan in place although Surrey RCMP’s contract with the city is due to end March 31.(File photo)
National Police Federation members slam Surrey police transition to Surrey Board of Trade

During virtual meeting, bargaining unit representatives say municipal force ‘not a done deal’

Boosh Food founder Connie Marples (right) delivers some Boosh Food items to Christine Mohr, CEO of Options Community Services, in December, 2020. Boosh Food has just moved their operations to Cloverdale. (Photo: Moonraker PR)
Boosh Food moves to Cloverdale

‘Plant-based comfort food’ company moving to 65A Avenue

B.C. Court of Appeal in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Court makes public ‘abbreviated’ reasons for judgment in Surrey Six slaying appeals

Six men were murdered in suite 1505 of the Balmoral Tower in Whalley on Oct. 19, 2007

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Shaelene Keeler Bell. (Facebook)
Candlelight vigil planned for Chilliwack mother missing for four weeks

Virtual event to ‘spread some light’ for 23-year-old Shaelene Bell of Chilliwack

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Vancouver International Women in Film Festival kicks off March 5.
Women in Film Festival features two B.C. filmmakers

The 16th annual festival kicks off March 5, 2021

The booklet roots present day activism in the history of racist policies, arguing the history must be acknowledged in order to change. (CCPA)
New resource dives into 150 years of racist policy in B.C.

Racist history must be acknowledged in order to change, authors say

Most Read