First responders taking precautions during COVID-19 outbreak

Dewar: 'they accept the risks that are associated with helping people in need'

WELLINGTON COUNTY – First responders are still on the job, still putting out fires, treating accident victims and catching criminals, despite the threat of COVID-19 hanging over their heads.

Chief Stephen Dewar, of Guelph Wellington Paramedic Service, said paramedics are used to walking into unknown situations and already have gear to protect them against the virus.

“Whether it is a child with meningitis, a patient with tuberculosis or the current COVID-19 pandemic, the risk of an infectious disease is something that paramedics deal with as part of their professionalism,” Dewar said in an email.

He noted there has actually been a slight decline in call volume in the past week, which is both surprising and appreciated.

“I believe that people are choosing not to call 911 for issues that are not serious or life-threatening, and we very much appreciate that,” Dewar said.

In terms of 911 calls, Dewar said the Ambulance Communications Centre will ask callers about symptoms and if the patient has travelled recently. That information is then given to the paramedics before they arrive on scene, and they can suit up appropriately.

Ambulances are disinfected after each of these calls to prevent the spread of any infections, Dewar added.

“I am very proud of our paramedic team,” he said.

“While they are concerned about the current pandemic, they are well informed about the steps that they need to take to contain the spread of the virus and they accept the risks that are associated with helping people in need.”

Ontario Provincial Police officers are also taking precautions, though access to detachments across the province is restricted and anyone entering an OPP facility will be screened first.

The OPP is also limiting the processing of routine criminal record checks and vulnerable sector checks for the foreseeable future. Checks will only be conducted if deemed to be necessary, or for emergency circumstances.

For any detachment-based service, contact your local detachment before heading out (in Wellington County: 519-856-1506 for Rockwood, 519-846-5939 for Aboyne and 519-343-5770 for Teviotdale). For emergencies, continue to call 911.

The Centre Wellington Fire Department has scaled back some non-essential services because of COVID-19 restrictions and administrative staff are, by and large, working from home. The administrative building on Queen Street West in Fergus is closed to the public for the time being and public education programs and fire hall tours are cancelled.

“But our firefighters are eager and ready to respond,” said Fire Chief Brad Patton.

Other departments across the county are following similar protocols.

Patton said six Centre Wellington staff are full-time and the rest are paid, on-call firefighters – what used to be considered “volunteers” – and they have all been briefed on COVID-19 protocols.

“We take precautions when we’re out in the public,” he said. “When they’re wearing their equipment, that’s the best protection there is.”

There is also enhanced cleaning and sanitizing of fire trucks when they return from calls.

Patton said he’s noticed 911 calls are down since the public has gone into self-isolation.

“There’s not as much traffic on the roads, people are home and industry is slower. I think that’s probably why,” he said.

For the latest health information regarding COVID-19, visit the public health website.

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