Six Nations says firefighter tested negative for COVID-19, chief still in isolation

The elected council says 10 firefighters are headed back to work. Chief Matthew Miller will remain in isolation for 14 days as a precaution while waiting for his own test result to come back.

11 firefighters, including the chief, went into isolation Sunday

Six Nations Fire Chief Matthew Miller remains in isolation while waiting for the result of a test for COVID-19. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

The Elected Council for Six Nations of the Grand River is sharing its "relief" after a firefighter tested negative for COVID-19 — but the community's fire chief is still in isolation, awaiting results of his own test.

Eleven firefighters, including Chief Matthew Miller, went into isolation Sunday after a colleague was potentially exposed to the new coronavirus and underwent testing.

In a statement shared Tuesday night, Six Nations said 10 of those firefighters are now headed back to work. Miller will remain in isolation for 14 days as a precaution while waiting for his own test result to come back.

"Our fire service is very much a family, and like many families are being asked, we needed to do the right thing in this situation and self-isolate out of an abundance of caution and care for our community," he said. 

"I, along with the members of our fire service family, am extremely relieved to know that our family member will be OK and that the results have come back negative".

There have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Six Nations territory to date and the council says it is making "every effort to keep it that way."

Six Nations declared a community emergency on March 13 and the elected council is working with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council to respond to COVID-19 by closing non-essential services, schools and directing staff to work from home.

Staff with Ohsweken Public Health were charged with contacting community members who may have come into contact with the firefighter and advising them to self-isolate following news of the possible exposure.

"I want to thank every member of the [fire] platoon for demonstrating courage and leadership through this ordeal," stated Six Nations Elected Chief Mark Hill in a media release. "If every member of our community rises to the call of duty in this way, I have no doubt we'll come out of this with minimal impact on the health and well-being of Six Nations members."

Fire chief looking forward to getting back to the front lines

Six Nations Fire and Emergency Services has raised concerns about being stretched thin in the past.

Following five house fires in nine days back in July, Miller said the workload left his crews "in a constant state of exhaustion with no adequate time to recover physically and mentally."

The release states emergency services received "many inquiries and questions worrying about first responders coming to their aid" after news so many of them were in self-isolation.

But, the council said, two full platoons remained active while their colleagues were out and neighbouring fire services had agreed to help out if needed, so emergency service was not impacted.

"It must be understood that the personal protective equipment which front line staff are wearing when responding to emergencies is not only for their protection but the community's protection as well," the statement reads. "We would never put anyone's health or wellbeing in danger."

As for Miller, the fire chief says he hopes to be back at work as soon as possible.

"I will hopefully be receiving the results of my test soon and be able to rejoin my home family and fire service family on the front line."