COVID-19: New reality for fire services in Durham Region

Steve Andrews of Pickering Fire Services. Photo credit: Courtesy of Steve Andrews

Firefighters in Durham Region are taking extra precautions when addressing calls from the public during COVID-19.

“We’ve switched to a new system for shift changes, when we come on duty we go to a medical monitoring station and answer a COVID-19 questionnaire, we also have our temperature taken – all before going on shift,” says Rob Cannon, acting captain for the Whitby Fire and Emergency Services.

The firefighters have also changed their equipment to ensure their personal safety. They are provided with full suits, two pairs of medical gloves, a mask and face shield.

The department has also split up its stations. Since community centres are not in operation, they are being used for fire services, one is now located in a hockey arena in Whitby.

“We’ve split up two truck stations, so we don’t have 10 people in one hall,” says Cannon.

Members of fire services are busy addressing new calls during COVID-19 going to more life-threatening calls and assisting EMS and police.

According to Cannon, there has been a decrease in call volume but the severity of the calls has increased, especially suicides.

Steve Andrews, a firefighter with Pickering Fire Services has been working there since 1989. He says he hasn’t seen anything like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a little different, we’ve taken a lot of precautions, there’s about 15 new emails everyday on new precautions,” says Andrews.

There has been a decrease in car accidents but an increase in kitchen fires and bonfires, according to Andrews.

“People are stuck at home, they want to go camping, this is the time people normally start,” says Andrews. “There’s a fire ban across most of Ontario for a reason, we’ve had people in subdivisions with bonfires going, which I don’t think they would do in regular times.”

Fire disturbances are still happening in different ways during the pandemic, but Andrews is pleased there are measures and extra precautions in place.

“All levels of government have taken a very good measured approach to what’s happening and it’s being affective,” says Andrews.

Although both officers have been taking safety measures on the job, they also take precautions when returning home.

“We don’t wear the same clothes to work, if for some reason I do come into contact with anyone I change in the garage, we always have masks in the house anyway, we learnt that from SARS,” says Andrews.

Cannon says his wife and children have not left their home in months to keep the family safe.

“I have a designated door I use at home with Lysol wipes available. As soon as I come through the door, I wipe down the doorknobs that I touched. I then proceed to putting my clothes in the laundry and take a shower,” he says. “If any of them end up getting sick with COVID-19 it will be because I brought it home. That is my biggest fear.”