Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay firefighters postpone recruitment tests due to COVID-19 concerns

Anyone hoping to become a firefighter in Thunder Bay will have to wait a little longer.

Tests were scheduled to begin at the end of March, acting fire chief says

Thunder Bay Fire Rescue has postponed an upcoming recruitment process due to concerns over COVID-19. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

Anyone hoping to become a firefighter in Thunder Bay will have to wait a little longer.

Thunder Bay Fire Rescue was planning to begin a new recruitment process at the end of March. However, due to concerns about a possible COVID-19 outbreak in Thunder Bay, that has been postponed, acting chief Greg Hankkio said.

"Our feeling is that at this point in time, it's the proper thing to do and the appropriate thing to do," Hankkio said Friday.

The process was to begin with a written test on March 28. That was scheduled to take place at Lakehead University.

Hankkio said about 250-300 prospective firefighters had signed up to take the written test. The top scorers move on to a physical test, and then a resume scoring process and interview.

At the end of the process — which can take months — a few successful applicants are put on a hiring list that the fire service can draw from when a job opens up, Hankkio said.

"We also had to keep in mind when we decided to suspend the process was what our hiring needs were going to be," he said. "We're comfortable right now that we can postpone this process to a later date."

However, COVID-19 isn't only affecting the firefighter recruitment process; it's also changing how firefighters are responding to medical calls.

When a call for a medical emergency comes in, dispatchers are screening the caller, following Ministry of Health guidelines, Hankkio said, trying to determine if they've been exposed to COVID-19.

"If somebody is screened positive through the process, then Thunder Bay fire will not respond to that particular call, with that exception we still continue to respond to medical calls as we have been under our tiered response agreement," he said. "No other aspect of our response has changed."

"We will still continue to try our best to provide the level of service that we do to the public through this entire event."

Hankkio said the calls firefighters respond to under the tiered response agreement — a tiered response is essentially a coordinated response, which also includes other first response agencies such as paramedics and police — are generally life-threatening in nature, such as situations where a person has vital signs absent, unconscious, or having difficulty breathing.

"That continues ... unless the caller providing the information indicates the person has possibly been exposed to COVID-19," Hankkio said. "Then, we wouldn't be going."