COVID-19 prompts N.B. firefighters to change response to medical calls

COVID-19 is prompting firefighters in New Brunswick to change when they respond to medical calls.

The Fredericton Fire Department is using the same protocol it had in place during H1N1 and SARS outbreaks. It is not automatically responding.

"It's a slight deviation from what we've been doing," said David McKinley, assistant deputy chief of the department.

Instead, the department will only go to a medical call if Ambulance New Brunswick requests the assistance of firefighters.

"What we're trying to do is limit contact as much as we can, so that we're not carrying the virus from patient-to-patient, from call-to-call," McKinley said. 

When firefighters respond to medical calls now they will take extra measures to protect themselves, and the patient.

Gary Moore/CBC

"Now we're wearing masks, and we have goggles that we can wear, and then we have a Tyvek gown that we can put over top of our responders."

McKinley said only one responder will be interact with a patient while the other responders will stand back about two metres. 

"Although our people are healthy and strong and lower risk than a lot of other people, our interaction makes it so that it can be spread to people eventually that may have health issues."

McKinley said the types of medical calls he's referencing are calls for respiratory distress and chest pain, as examples.

"We never did respond to things like flu-like symptoms, even a broken arm," said McKinley adding that there's no change in protocol for all other emergency calls like car accidents and fires.

McKinley believes the department answers up to six medical calls a day, and expects that will be cut in half under this protocol.   

Saint John Fire Department and the Moncton Fire Department have also adopted similar rules.

The Kennebecasis Firefighters Union posted on Facebook that its increasing "sanitary practices and protective equipment."

"We do ask to please help us help you by ensuring you tell our dispatch centre of your symptoms so we can properly prepare and help to limit our exposure," the post said.