Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay firefighters turn to closed schools, industrial supplies for PPE

Thunder Bay firefighters have turned to community sources to help them build up their supply of personal protective equipment.

Firefighters using industrial face shields to protect themselves from COVID-19

Closed Thunder Bay schools are among the sources of industrial-grade face shields being used by firefighters for protection during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

Thunder Bay firefighters have turned to community sources to help them build up their supply of personal protective equipment.

David Paxton, deputy fire chief, said firefighters needed face shields to better protect themselves while responding to calls during the COVID-19 outbreak.

However, the pandemic has driven up demand for personal protective equipment like face shields, and supply is limited.

"Everyone's recognizing that there are shortages," Paxton said. "The concern is, that when supplies are ordered, when that supply chain is actually going to be realized."

"Until the stock arrives, you don't consider it at realized and in service."

Face shields, Paxton said, aren't normally used by firefighters. However, with firefighters responding to COVID-19 calls, the protection the shields offered was necessary, Paxton said.

There was some stock available through Superior North EMS, but at the same time, the fire service sought out industrial-grade face shields, used by tradespeople.

And, Paxton said, schools in the city, as well as Confederation College, had those available; several were provided to the fire department from those sources. Others came from industrial suppliers.

Number of calls dropping

"The ... shields that we're looking at are a little bit more rugged," he said. "And they can be disinfected and re-used."

Further, using the industrial shields means firefighters aren't dipping into the supply of medical face shields used by health care professionals in settings like hospitals and long-term care facilities, as well as paramedics.

"We have a few more on order," Paxton said. "By early next week, we'll have got the entire stock we need to be able to switch out and decontaminate masks."

As for call volumes, Paxton said firefighters are finding the number of calls for service is dropping during the pandemic.

"It's been the same for firefighters as it is for police and paramedics," he said. "Traffic in the city is down."

"All three agencies have seen a decline in call volume, and I would say that's across the board, on all types of calls," Paxton said. "It's not one specific type of call."

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