Town of Okotoks first responders have adapted quickly in the face of the COVID-19 crisis as they have made substantial changes to the way they are responding to emergencies, in order to protect their patients, the public and themselves. With the possibility of patients carrying COVID-19, Okotoks firefighters have increased the level of personal protective equipment they are using, such as N95 masks and goggles. If a there is a case of a suspected COVID-19 infection, isolation garments or disposable haz-mat coveralls are worn on scene. Fire crews responding to a medical emergency no longer send two or three members into a room or building. Only one member of the team is sent in to initially assess the patient and only if the patient requires immediate treatment will the other members make contact. Firefighters that have a potential exposure to COVID-19 are decontaminated in a special bay at the fire hall. All their equipment and the fire apparatus must be decontaminated as well.
The Okotoks Fire Department (OFD) is taking the necessary precautions to ensure that they are able to continue to respond to medical calls, fires, motor vehicle accidents and all other emergency responses as required. Both fire stations remain closed to the public and firefighters continually sanitize the fire trucks and common areas in the stations. Even the fire services personnel need to practice social distancing. Each firefighter platoon remain physically distanced from each other when switching out shifts by using different building doors and using special station decontamination techniques. The Fire Station 1 and 2 staff do not physically interact with each other unless at an emergency requiring both stations. Even then they are careful not to potentially cross contaminate. There is a strict regimen that is followed in and out of the station. Fire departments across Alberta have adopted many of the measures first introduced by the Okotoks Fire Department.
The province has made mandatory changes to how fire departments are dispatched to medical calls due to COVID-19. Only life threatening events such as cardiac arrest or heart attacks have fire departments now being dispatched alongside EMS. The Okotoks Fire Department previously was dispatched to many incidents of lesser acuity, particularly when EMS was delayed.
The Okotoks Fire Department continues to fully staff both Fire Stations in Town 24/7. Contingency plans are in place to replace firefighters that may fall sick or be forced to self-isolate to ensure uninterrupted emergency response. OFD community firefighters have been front and centre during this crisis, working alongside the full-time members.
With the anticipated increase of suspected COVID-19 cases or individuals who have flu-like symptoms, it is important that residents are following the proper procedure of reporting symptoms using the 811-health link number. Trained healthcare professionals are answering the number 24 hours a day. By utilizing this service, residents will be getting the support and guidance that they need without tying up 911 and local emergency responders for non-emergency or non-transport treatment situations.
The Okotoks Fire Department is doing its part to ensure firefighters can continue to keep the community safe! Don’t forget how everyone can help to flatten the curve in Alberta. Remember to practice physical distancing and continue to follow the guidelines set forward by Alberta Health Services.