Montreal firefighters to work 24-hour shifts, give up vacations in response to COVID-19 crisis

With five Montreal firefighters infected and 35 others in isolation, firefighters will respond to only the most critical 911 emergencies for now, as part of a host of measures to prevent further spread of COVID-19 within that vital workforce.

Extra measures adopted after 5 firefighters test positive, 35 others in contact with them now isolated

A Montreal firefighter volunteers at Moisson Montreal food bank in Montreal on Friday. Five of her colleagues have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 35 others who have been in contact with them are now in isolation. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Montreal firefighters will respond respond to only the most critical 911 emergencies for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak, as part of a host of measures to prevent further spread of COVID-19 within that vital workforce.

As of Friday morning, five Montreal firefighters had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. They worked at stations in Westmount, Ahuntsic and Parc-Extension. They are now in self-isolation, along with 35 other firefighters who were in direct contact with them.

"The isolation of certain firefighters was also necessary after a cardiac emergency intervention for a citizen that, in all likelihood, was infected by the coronavirus," Chris Ross, president of the Montreal Firefighters Association, said in a news release Friday.

Montreal's fire department and the union representing firefighters have reached an agreement in principle on special provisions for working under the threat of COVID-19. (Simon-Marc Charron/Radio-Canada)

Because of these cases, Montreal's fire department and the union representing firefighters have reached an agreement in principle to make temporary changes to the way the fire stations operate and firefighters' daily activities.

The temporary changes include putting firefighters on 24-hour shifts, as of Monday, as well as changes in the way firefighters respond to calls.

Ross said his members didn't agree unanimously to the changes, but the union agreed they were necessary for everyone's safety.

The main objective of the changes is to ensure firefighters stay healthy, thereby maintaining front-line services — and preventing a domino effect, as more firefighters get sick or need to be isolated.

Apart from the 24-hours shifts, all vacation time, time off and "time swaps" will be suspended until at least June 30, with the possibility of that being extended.

Firefighters will not be transferred from one station to another, to eliminate the possibility of cross-infection between stations.

When it comes to emergency first responder calls, firefighters will only respond to the most critical, until further notice.

With files from Radio-Canada, Kristy Rich and Verity Stevenson

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