Fire department adapting operations to COVID-19 reality

The onset of the global COVID-19 has underscored the importance of various elements of our modern day society.

Doctors, nurses and those employed in the health care field are directly responding and treating COVID-19 patients, while others areas, such as grocery store employees and truckers are diligently working to maintain the supply chain.

The effects of social distancing and efforts to stem the spread of the virus has permeated all aspects of society, and individuals, families, businesses and governments are working to accommodate those directives.

That includes Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services, which is adapting services and operations in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Scott Driver, the Director of Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services, said firefighters and staff have been busy working to align their policies and procedures with the directives issued by Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s top doctor.

“In order to do what we do — just like any of the other health care workers or front line workers who are in contact with the general public — we’ve had to make really significant adjustments to the way we operate,” Driver said.

Driver was appointed as the Director of Fire and Emergency Services at the end of last year, but has been with the Cranbrook fire department since 2004, serving as a firefighter, fire prevention officer and deputy director of operations.

The firehall building, known as a firehouse to firefighters and support staff, typically sees a lot of people working shifts in close quarters while also moving between their own homes and the firehouse.

“Maintaining our ability to go from home to work safely and to not put either group at risk has been our highest priority the whole time, which is hard, but it’s worth figuring out and doing well and making sure everyone’s educated enough to do that well,” said Driver.

Some of those changes mean tweaking operations, in terms of being mindful how personnel and equipment are being used when responding to emergency situations. On any given call, the fire department could be on scene with organizations such as the RCMP, B.C Ambulance Service and Cranbrook and District Search and Rescue — partners that have decades-long relationships.

“The teams working together at 2 a.m. in the morning, it’s critical they know what they’re doing,” Driver said. “But with everyone changing the rules and the processes by which we work, it’s become an operational re-learning of how we go about doing that business and connecting with the groups that are going to connect in the middle of the night, or in the middle of the weekend.”

Given the very real possibility of wildfire events around the region, fire department staff usually cross-train with B.C. Wildfire Service personnel each spring. That usually involves in-person training sessions at the forestry base in Cranbrook in order to learn from each other and get familiar with the necessary equipment.

“How are we going to bring those two pieces together and become proficient as a larger team before wildfire season hits us full-on?” asked Driver. “So there’s a challenge there, but certainly the base manager and myself are up for that challenge and we’re doing what we can to create that connection between our teams and be ready for the summer fire season.”

Working with local and regional partners will be extremely important as emergency services agencies navigate the COVID-19 reality, said Driver. The fire department is working very closely with a regional emergency operations centre that coordinates an emergency service group on a weekly basis.

“We’re working very closely with our regional neighbours and partners and our local partners in emergency response delivery,” said Driver. “We’re all doing everything we can to make sure that we help each other and build a strong emergency response team in the entire region and locally.

“We need each other right now.”

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