Some Saanich firefighters have expressed concerns about first responders in the Island Health Region not being prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as an outbreak at a fire station would make service delivery a challenge. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)

Some Saanich firefighters have expressed concerns about first responders in the Island Health Region not being prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as an outbreak at a fire station would make service delivery a challenge. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)

Saanich firefighters not prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine despite working on frontlines

Saanich members express frustration, department calls on Island Health to take action

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.

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.

READ ALSO: Saanich firefighters adjust to COVID-19 while maintaining community connections

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.

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.

READ ALSO: Pandemic meant more blazes, fewer calls for Saanich firefighters in 2020

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.

READ ALSO: Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay fire reach ‘modern’ service agreement

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.


@devonscarlett
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devon.bidal@saanichnews.com

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