B.C.’s first responders trying to cope with ‘evolving situation’

“Every call we go to has the potential to be a COVID patient,” said Dave Deines, president of the Paramedic Association of Canada, representing more than 20,000 members of the profession. “Some people don’t know they are infected,”

Mr. Deines, also vice-president of the Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of B.C. union, said all paramedics can do is go into incidents with what he calls “a high index of suspicion” – a professional term for being extremely vigilant.

Mr. Deines said he is hearing that the system is strained across Canada as paramedics deal with calls from people who are scared or want to be tested for COVID-19.

Paramedics in B.C., he said, have always had protective gear, including masks, gowns and face shields. Mr. Deines, a paramedic for 25 years, says in flu seasons of the past, a paramedic might have donned the gear once a shift. But he said he just spoke to a Vancouver paramedic who used it four times before noon in one shift.

He said three paramedics in B.C. have tested positive for COVID-19, and some are concerned the disease could deplete the ranks of first responders. “With a pandemic crisis like this, it’s all hands on deck,” he said.

Call-takers and dispatchers with the BC Emergency Health Services, which oversees the ambulance service, are on alert for indications of influenza-like symptoms in calls, and flag them for paramedics before patient contact, according to a statement from the agency.