How first responders are dealing with the threat of COVID-19 on P.E.I.

First responders across the Island are changing the way they do things because of COVID-19.

Police, firefighters, emergency medical services ready to respond

The Charlottetown fire department is changing how they respond to calls. Fire Chief Randy MacDonald says fewer firefighters will go into buildings when an alarm sounds. (Pat Martel/CBC)

First responders across the Island are changing the way they do things because of COVID-19. Additional cleaning is being done at the Charlottetown police station and access is being restricted.

"People are still able to communicate with our telecommunications office through camera and intercom," said Chief Paul Smith.

Charlottetown police officers have hand sanitizer in their cruisers and are wiping them down. In the past officers have been spat on and have spit shields to protect themselves.

"From a public safety point of view, you know, we continue to function like we would normally do," Smith said.

However police are prioritizing. Some bylaws around parking may not be enforced during the outbreak — unless traffic is obstructed.

"We may, at the end of the day, have a totally different viewpoint on meter parking then we would for somebody that might be blocking traffic," Smith said.

Some firefighters to isolate

The Charlottetown fire department is adapting to how they respond to calls. Fire Chief Randy MacDonald said fewer firefighters will go into buildings when an alarm sounds.

"Usually automatic alarms are normally a big piece of our call volume. Instead of having three or four guys in a building or an occupancy type we will only send two," he said.

'We currently do have some members that are going to be isolating when they return from south of the border,' says Charlottetown fire Chief Randy MacDonald. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Additional firefighters will be called from outside the building to go inside if it is a serious situation, MacDonald said. If there is a person suspected to have COVID-19 in a building firefighters will take additional precautions.

"The firefighter will automatically go on air. That's where we have a self-contained breathing apparatus," he said. That equipment will then be sanitized after use.

MacDonald said the concern for firefighters is the same as many essential services still being provided in the community.

"As this pandemic grows, maybe we will be coming up against situations where our members are ill and self-quarantined," he said. "We currently do have some members that are going to be isolating when they return from south of the border."

However, MacDonald said for the time being Charlottetown fire has enough staff to respond to fire emergencies.

'Trained for this'

Officials with Island EMS said they are in a special situation. Operations manager Jeremy Measham said it has pandemic plans in place.

'Now when an Islander calls 911 they will answer a set of screening questions that revolve around their potential exposure to COVID-19,' says Island EMS operations manager Jeremy Measham. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

"It is important to realize that paramedics are trained for this," Measham said. "We spend a lot of time and a lot of practice looking for ways to make us safe on calls because we are often exposed to communicable diseases, and COVID-19 is no different."

He said because of this, paramedics already have practices in place to protect themselves.

"Now when an Islander calls 911 they will answer a set of screening questions that revolve around their potential exposure to COVID-19," Measham said.

People who call 911 are now asked if they have been outside Canada recently, and if they are showing any of the symptoms of the virus.

"Depending on the responses that the patient gives they will put on protective equipment to make sure they're not exposed," Measham said.

Measham says Island EMS is limiting people who can ride in an ambulance with loved ones. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Ambulances are fully stocked with personal protective equipment paramedics can use to defend themselves from a variety of dangers.

"Ambulances are equipped with [personal protective equipment] that helps the paramedics keep themselves safe. You might actually see a paramedic, every now and then, dressed in a yellow gown with a mask on and a face shield," Measham said.

"These are the types of things paramedics are wearing to protect themselves."

Another change in protocol is that loved ones will not be able to ride in the back of an ambulance with a patient, he said.

"At this point I think it is in the best interest of the public and our paramedics that we're limiting people who are able to ride in the ambulance with loved ones," Measham said. 

"We are making exceptions for this for parents and guardians of minors."

Island EMS doesn't have a "significant amount" of staff in self-isolation, he said.

"Island EMS is running at full capacity ready to respond to a medical emergency, and we are not having staffing challenges at this point."

He also said some Islanders may not be getting the message on who to call if they believe they have COVID-19.

"We are getting some calls at 911 where people are wanting to be tested. And unfortunately the ambulances do not test for COVID-19," he said.

"So callers that are calling for testing are redirected to 811 as long as there is not a medical emergency."

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.
  • But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

    What should I do if I feel sick?

    Isolate yourself and call your local public health authority. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested.

    How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Be aware of evolving travel advisories to different regions.
  • More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.


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