Station 3, by Beatrice and Mary Street in Oshawa, is where Matt Sylvester, 38, works. As an Oshawa firefighter who has been on the force for three years, Sylvester said, “No two days are alike, that’s for sure. That’s part of the reason why this job is so awesome.”
Sylvester said the team dynamic has changed this past year due to COVID-19.
Firefighters have to spread out and work on tasks separately. The teamwork is still there.
There are six fire stations across all of Oshawa, and 195 staff working in the fire service in Oshawa, according to the City of Oshawa Fire Service.
When Sylvester arrives in the morning, he must fill out a COVID-19 questionnaire and get his temperature checked before he can work.
If he checks yes to one of the symptoms, he has to go home and get a COVID-19 test.
Once he proves he is not infected, he checks everything is in order: his pack on the firetruck, his kits, and his gear.
The day starts at seven in the morning and work is non-stop, all day. From cleaning, to training to checking all kits are in order in case of a fire or emergency.
“We don’t have a lot of downtime (at the station),” Sylvester said. But after everything is done, he makes sure he gets his cup of coffee and says hi to the crew. He then talks to the captains to see what is on the agenda for the day.
“You know if we’re not going out on calls, there’s so much stuff around the firehall that keeps us busy,” Sylvester said.
Since COVID-19, the cleaning at the firehall has been revamped.
“It’s always been a great place, everything’s always clean, firefighters are very meticulous like that,” Sylvester said.
He said they do their best to disinfect all touch points and take just a couple extra minutes to make sure everything is clean.
Firefighters live together for 24 hours in tight quarters.
“Being firefighters, we do everything as a family. This is our family away from our family,” said Sylvester.
Before the pandemic, firefighters always cooked their meals together at the hall, and ate together, but now they are separated, eating their meals away from one another.
But on a call, they have to be together, all squeezed into a firetruck, wearing their masks and all their personal protective equipment (PPE).
Firefighters are one of the emergency services that go to every single emergency call. According to Oshawa Fire Services 2018’s Annual Report, there were 5,462 calls across all stations. There were 16,349 calls for service received by Oshawa dispatch.
Firefighters respond to fire, medical assists, motor vehicle accidents and specialized type rescues, according to the City of Oshawa Fire Service.
If it is not known whether the call is a COVID-19 positive case, they have to treat it as it is one, said one of the Pickering, Ont. firefighter captain, Glen Burton, 55.
When the hall gets the call, the firefighters slide down the pole, and quickly put on their PPE then hop in the truck, turn the sirens on and rush to the scene.
But going out on calls is not the only challenging part about being a firefighter. It is the training, said Burton.
Due to COVID-19, training happens online, but there is also training inside and outside.
“We are required to do an interior search and rescue training and it takes a larger amount of people to do those,” Burton said.
Before COVID-19, firefighters trained with other stations but right now, cross-training has stopped.
“We are actually doing our in-house training, in our own station to eliminate exposure,” Burton said.
Some of the stations do not have some training apparatuses and others do, but firefighters do not have access to those stations. Burton said they have made those devices to help continue the training at those outlying stations.
But also, Burton said throughout the day, they can also do online training such as first aid, auto extrication, high angle rescue or water rescue.
When training in larger groups, such as water training, Burton said, “Those are very difficult and if we are any closer than 6 feet of each other we have to wear a mask, which makes communication a little difficult at times as well.”
Burton said that even with the pandemic, he was never concerned about contracting the virus. He has been a firefighter for 31 years.
“There’s slots that we see on a daily basis not just COVID-19 but other things that are contagious, that we have to be concerned about.”
As a captain, Burton said he could impart that information to junior guys who have not seen things he has. In his capacity as leader, Burton shares how he copes and deals with the things he has seen.
When all the jobs get done, and there are no emergencies, the firefighters get to go to sleep. But with one ear open to listen for that call.
When they wake up, the crew for the next day arrives at seven in the morning and Sylvester and Burton get to go home to their families.