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COVID quarantine stretching Calgary fire department resources thin

Calgary’s fire chief said he’s had to approve overtime recently to grapple with the COVID-quarantine among city firefighters.

Coun. Jeff Davison raised the question in Monday’s combined meeting of council of front line emergency workers receiving the vaccine. He asked about the impact that it’s had on the Calgary fire department.

Davison had put forward a notice of motion in March to work with the province on prioritization for Calgary’s critical workers.

Calgary fire Chief Steve Dongworth said his last check showed that seven firefighters who have tested positive for COVID-19. This has put 56 firefighters in quarantine.

“It is stretching us in terms of staffing. I’ve approved now some additional overtime to be used on Saturday, I think it was. We had three trucks we couldn’t staff, ” said Chief Dongworth.

The department had to shut down training and close off public engagement to keep everyone safe, Dongworth said.

Dongworth said during the meeting that he finds Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s response to vaccinating fire fighter interesting. The province wants to focus on vaccinating people who come into frequent contact with high-risk populations.

He finds irony in the province’s priorities.

“Dozens of times a week, we interact with those populations,” said Dongworth.

“We do a lot of calls to the Drop-In Centre, to Salvation Army. We go into care homes for fire and medical calls.”

‘Extremely anger-inducing’: Mayor Nenshi

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said it’s “illogical to the extreme” to not include firefighters as medical first responders.

“This is extremely anger-inducing because of a couple of reasons,” said Nenshi.

Getting the provincial government to recognize the work that firefighters do is just one reason, Nenshi notes.

“Firefighters are giving people CPR and mouth-to-mouth everyday,” said Nenshi.

“To assume that they’re somehow not medical responders or healthcare workers is unimaginable,” said Nenshi.

Matt Osborne, VP of the Calgary Firefighters Association said today’s firefigthers respond to a variety of calls.

“It’s true, we respond to thousands of medical calls a year.” said Osborne.

“We do more than fires.”

Firefighters should receive the vaccine along with police and paramedics, Osborne said. To this point, the pandemic has strained Calgary fire department resources.

“Our fire department’s been getting stretched thinner and thinner,” said Osborne.

Osborne said they’ve had to pull a firetruck out of service almost a dozen times due to quarantining firefighters.

But, there’s also a domestic toll being taken.

“We sign up for this job, we’re proud of the work we do. But at the end of the day, we go home to our families,” said Osborne.

“We are concerned, we just want to make sure we keep our loved ones safe.”