Calgary firefighters stretched to their limit by COVID-19

Calgary's fire chief says it's time to vaccinate firefighters, as staffing shortages due to COVID-19 stretch the department to its limits.

Firefighters are not included in the current phase of Alberta's vaccine rollout

Calgary firefighters respond to a house fire in Martindale in this June 4, 2018, file photo. Firefighters are now eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19 because they have been deemed medical first responders. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Calgary's fire chief says it's time to vaccinate firefighters, as staffing shortages due to COVID-19 stretch the department to its limits.

Fire Chief Steve Dongworth told city council on Monday morning that seven firefighters were currently home with active cases of COVID-19, and a total of 56 were isolating. 

Before this week, a total of 50 firefighters had tested positive for COVID-19 during the course of the pandemic. 

Dongworth has had to approve extra overtime to ensure adequate staffing — and this weekend three trucks weren't staffed. 

"There's not much more we can do in the workplace," he said.

"We don't have enough firefighters in our halls. And, with the city growing we're already stretched to the limit," the Calgary Firefighters Association posted to social media on Sunday.

Given the issues, the chief is confused why firefighters won't qualify for the same spot in the vaccine rollout as front-line police officers — it's "quite bizarre." 

Phase 2C of Alberta's vaccine rollout began Monday, with groups like front-line police, sheriffs, homeless shelter workers, as well as a vast array of health-care workers from acupuncturists to dietitians soon becoming eligible. 

Mayor Naheed Nenshi pointed out that firefighters are often the first responders on scene for a medical emergency.

"It is illogical to the extreme," Nenshi said. "You know, we're allowing audiologists and massage therapists to get their vaccines now as health-care workers, but not firefighters."

Premier Jason Kenney said vaccines are being prioritized for those most at risk and those most likely to encounter COVID-19.

"If a 25-year-old firefighter … gets in ahead of a 65-year-old, that in no way reflects the real risk profile here," Kenney said. 

Dongworth said his staff respond to thousands of calls each year that put them at risk of aerosol transmission.

Nenshi said he will continue to press the province to protect front-line city workers to prevent spread.

"I have not had much luck," he said of efforts so far. 

As of Monday, 163,532  Albertans have received two vaccine doses. 

With files from Elise von Scheel and Scott Dippel


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