2020-04-08

Emergency crews part of medical first response program adjust to pandemic-prompted changes

by Keith Corcoran

Some senior volunteer fire department leadership on the South Shore back the province's ambulance service's recent decision to adjust emergency call protocols impacting medical first response (MFR) agencies, such as their own, due to the COVID-19 crisis.

"If this is the best way to assist them, then, by all means, that's how it's got to be," Lyle Russell, chief of the New Ross volunteer fire department, told LighthouseNOW. Russell is also president of a fire and emergency services group representing first response agencies in the Municipality of Chester.

"I can completely understand where they're coming from and I get it; I support it," Russell said.

A memo from Emergency Health Services notified MFR agencies of the change on March 23. It means local first responders who're members of MFR agencies won't respond to medical calls, such as cardiac arrests, diabetic problems, or the like, except for traffic accidents or circumstances where extrication would be difficult or problematic.

"MFRs will not be requested to assist on a medical call for any patient screened in as a possible, presumed and/or confirmed COVID-19 patient," reads the memo, issued by EHS's MFR manager and provincial medical director.

"EHS is actively monitoring the spread of the coronavirus, and we will return to regular operation once it is determined to be safe for you to respond to medical calls again. We will be in contact with any updates."

EHS said the spike in COVID-19 across Canada precipitated the modified response level as it's "become increasingly complex to determine the optimal infection prevention and control requirements" for MFR agencies.

Corey Zinck, president of Lunenburg Regional Fire and Emergency Services, a group representing most volunteer fire departments in the western end of Lunenburg County, felt EHS, after a detailed assessment, made the right decision in efforts to minimize the risk to firefighters and the public.

"It ensures we are allowing our fire and rescue agencies to remain as responsive as possible to do our primary core function," Zinck, who's chief of the Oakhill district fire department, told LighthouseNOW.

Russell agreed, saying it's important departments, such as his, can provide fire suppression and prevention services.

"It's an unprecedented time for everybody," Russell said. "It's going to be a change at the fire hall or wherever you may be."

Added Zinck, "We're in this for the long game, not the short game."

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