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Chilliwack Fire Department adapts in the age of COVID-19 with altered protocols

‘Challenging times for us and our country, yet we are working and pulling together,’ says fire chief
Chilliwack Fire Chief Ian Josephson outside Chilliwack Fire Department’s Hall 1. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

The Chilliwack Fire Department is adapting to the changing demands of a community amidst a global pandemic.

The Chilliwack Progress checked in with Chilliwack Fire Chief Ian Josephson to hear how things are going for the career firefighters, the paid on-call firefighters and fire officers of the Chilliwack Fire Department.

“It’s been a bit of a challenge,” Josephson said, adding the department is used to working in a team environment.

The department’s protocols have been altered slightly to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection.

Strict physical distancing, thorough hand-washing, and stepped-up cleaning efforts of the fire halls and apparatus are all part of the regular routine now.

“I want the public to know that the Chilliwack Fire Department is here to help the community, and we are here to do whatever we can to help them get through this,” Josephson said.

“I am hearing that daily from staff. With everyone struggling, they just want to do as much as they can.”

The department has received a steady stream of emails and messages from the public who are cognizant of the sacrifices being made by first responders in the age of COVID.

“They’ve been sending words of encouragement and thank-yous for being there during these trying times. It’s been very comforting for firefighters,” Chief Josephson said.

One of the dispatch protocols that’s changed since the advent of the coronavirus is they are no longer responding to minor medical calls, following the recommendations from the provincial health officer.

“That is the biggest change,” Josephson said.

“We are focused instead on critical calls, on overdose calls, on structure fires, MVAs, and cardiac calls. We’ve been to several since COVID-19 arrived.”

They are still attending to burning complaints, and fire alarm activations as well, just not the lower acuity medical calls.

READ MORE: Firefighters only responding to most life-threatening calls

Chilliwack Fire Department is a “composite” department including career firefighters and paid on-call firefighters. They have 45 career staff which includes suppression firefighters, training, and fire prevention staff, chief officers and administration, and about 130 paid on-call officers and firefighters.

Career staff are not out inspecting public buildings at this time, and fire inspections have been curtailed.

“We’ve had to quit inspecting unless it’s a high hazard situation, and then we send out staff with the proper PPE. The routine inspections we’ve pulled back on.”

Managing the stress and fear of department staff, and their families, is also part of the new normal, said the fire chief.

“There are lots of resources out there for dealing with mental heath issues,” Josephson added. “We are listening to front line workers. When they have concerns we address them as quickly as we can to alleviate the stress.”

The department is doing very well in terms of supplying personal protective equipment (PPE) to staff for their protection.

“We have all the PPE we need at this point,” Josephson said. “We have great suppliers.”

Staff levels are also good at the department. Some are off duty due to colds and other illnesses, and some are working from home to protect vulnerable loved ones.

Chief Josephson himself is working from isolation at home and says everyone is making good use of their time, and delivering excellent customer service.

“We are in constant contact.”

They stay in touch with video calls, but weekly training for POC firefighters has been cancelled. The POCs do not enter any of the fire halls either as a distancing measure.

Training division staff have been coordinating online courses and education.

“I’m incredibly proud of the men and women in our department, for the dedication and commitment they are showing.

“These are very challenging times for us and our country, yet we are working and pulling together, in way that makes me so incredibly proud.

“The staff is really doing an excellent job serving our community and that makes my job much easier,” Josephson said.

READ MORE: First responders adjust how they respond

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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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