Thunder Bay

COVID-19 procedural changes lead to fewer calls for Thunder Bay Fire Rescue

A tweak made to the City of Thunder Bay's tiered response agreement due to COVID-19 could lead to permanent changes to what kind of calls city firefighters respond to, but it's too early to be certainly, the city's acting fire chief said.

Firefighters responding to fewer medical calls under tweaked tiered response agreement

Thunder Bay firefighters are responding to fewer medical calls due to a change made to the city's tiered response agreement because of COVID-19. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

A tweak made to the City of Thunder Bay's tiered response agreement due to COVID-19 could lead to permanent changes to what kind of calls city firefighters respond to, but it's too early to be certain, the city's acting fire chief said.

Greg Hankkio said the change is a small one, but it was made to limit firefighters' potential exposure to COVID-19 when responding to calls.

The new policy only applies to calls for service involving a person who's suffering from difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath.

Due to the pandemic, firefighters are now only responding to those calls if the person is also losing, or has lost, consciousness.

"It has resulted in a reduction in the number of medical calls we're going to," Hankko said. "The shortness of breath calls, quite frankly, are fairly significant."

Hankkio said the change was put into effect in the spring; call numbers for that period compared to previous years weren't available.

However, the new Thunder Bay Fire Rescue Strategic Master Fire Plan, which was presented to city council on Monday, included call data for 2016-2018. The data shows that medical calls make up the bulk of calls firefighters are dispatched.

In 2016, for example, medical calls made up 33 per cent of all calls to which firefighters were dispatched. That was followed by fire alarm activations, which accounted for 28 per cent, and rescue calls were in third place at nine per cent of all calls.

In 2017, medical calls made up 33 per cent of calls to the fire service, followed by fire alarms at 27 per cent and rescues at eight per cent.

And in 2018, medical calls accounted for 36 per cent of calls to the fire department, followed again by fire alarm activations at 28 per cent, and rescues at eight per cent.

The plan doesn't break down the types of calls any further, but Hankkio said the fire department responds to about 1,200-1,300 shortness of breath calls each year.

He said under the tiered response agreement, police, paramedics, and firefighters all respond to medical calls, to help ensure a first responder can get to the scene as quickly as possible to provide treatment.

However, there's a chance some permanent changes could be made, Hankkio said.

"Because of the pandemic, we will have some data that we can look at now," he said. 

"The intent of the tiered response is for us to respond to life-threatening conditions," Hankkio said. "If the data suggests that we didn't miss any of those particular calls, then maybe we'll have to look at making a permanent change."

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