19 staff infected in Ottawa Fire Services outbreak

·3 min read
As of Thursday afternoon, 19 staff at Ottawa Fire Services have tested positive for COVID-19.  (Stu Mills/CBC - image credit)
As of Thursday afternoon, 19 staff at Ottawa Fire Services have tested positive for COVID-19. (Stu Mills/CBC - image credit)

Over a dozen staff from Ottawa's fire department have tested positive for COVID-19, widening the net of recent known infections among the city's front-line workers.

The 19 infected Ottawa Fire Services staff are isolating at home and other employees who came into contact with them have been notified and are also self-isolating, wrote Kim Ayotte, the city's general manager of emergency and protective services, in a Thursday afternoon internal email obtained by CBC News.

The number of close contacts is unclear.

"If you have not been contacted by the department, you do not need to take any action," according to Ayotte's statement.

The fire department had 1,472 personnel as of the service's 2020 annual report.

The outbreak comes to light on the heels of a separate outbreak at the Ottawa Paramedic Service tied to a Dec. 15 off-duty gathering.

As of Thursday, 36 paramedic service staff had tested positive. Mayor Jim Watson said earlier this week he found news of the outbreak "extremely disappointing and frustrating."

By Friday, the number of paramedic staff infections linked to the gathering increased by nine cases, for a total of 45. The number of low- to moderate-risk contacts increased by 15, totalling 125.

"At this time, the service is unaware of any COVID positive results in these patients," according to a publicly-released memo to city councillors from paramedic Chief Pierre Poirier.

Bylaw infections too

Ayotte's internal email said another three paramedic staff have tested positive, bringing the total number of known COVID-19 cases at the department to 48. Ayotte noted those additional three people were not connected to the gathering.

Three staff members with the city's bylaw and regulatory services have also tested positive, according to Ayotte's email.

Altogether, between the known infections at the paramedic, firefighter and bylaw services, 70 of the city's front-line workers have recently been infected with COVID-19.

Balancing public risk with confidentiality

In an emailed statement to CBC News on Friday, Ayotte said the reach of the Omicron variant is felt throughout the city, including among front-line staff.

"Emergency and protective services currently has enough capacity to meet operational requirements," Ayotte said.

"We are monitoring closely the impacts to the service delivery and will not hesitate to implement further contingency plans as required."

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

Ayotte also explained the city's policy for publicly disclosing staff COVID-19 cases.

Where a risk to the public is identified, the city provides updates in the form of memos to city councillors and the media, he said.

That's what the city did in the case of the Ottawa Paramedic Service outbreak.

"However, we continue to balance and prioritize the confidentiality privileges of city staff who were not interacting with the public or were not in the workplace within the 48 hours prior to developing signs and symptoms," he added.

Doug McLennan, the president of the Ottawa Professional Firefighters' Association — the union that represents local firefighters — said members have been vigilant in protecting themselves, their coworkers and the public during the pandemic.

"The Ottawa Fire Services management has been very good in handling this pandemic crisis while working with the association in COVID-19 matters," he said via email.

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