COVID-19: Stress on the front line of the fight against the pandemic

Paramedics, like firefighters, police officers and front-line doctors and nurses, are trained to handle difficult scenarios. But their skills are being put to the test during this COVID-19 crisis — while most Canadians are urged to stay home, these first responders are desperately needed at work every day.

“We already deal with high-stress situations, but when we are seeing a pandemic at this level, something in the world unprecedented — we never, ever, envisioned something like this happening to us in the modern era,” said Troy Clifford, a paramedic chief and the president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C.

“To say we are not concerned? That wouldn’t be truthful. But with that we understand our role, and we take it very seriously, and we are prepared for this the best anybody can be right now.”

In interviews with a variety of first responders in British Columbia, most said their organizations had sufficient equipment in the short-term to keep them safe from potential exposure to the coronavirus, although there was a serious need to bolster stocks for the future.

They also said contingency plans are in place to increase staff during this crisis, and described taking extraordinary measures to keep themselves, their co-workers and their families healthy. And they urged British Columbians to help them by self-quarantining to reduce the spread of the virus and to be honest about any coronavirus symptoms when they call 911 so first responders can be prepared.

“It’s a tough job. When you are in these uncharted waters where we are right now, there is uncertainty and fear. We need to be reassured that our families are OK, so we can come to work and do our job to look after the public. There is a stress on us, no question,” added Clifford.


B.C. Emergency Health Services is receiving several hundred inquiries a day from people concerned about potential COVID-19 symptoms, in addition to the average 1,400 medical emergency calls its ambulance service handles daily, said spokeswoman Sarah Morris.

Clifford urged British Columbians not to phone 911 if they are seeking a coronavirus evaluation because that ties up valuable resources, but said residents should not hesitate to call if they are sick.

There are more than 4,400 paramedics and dispatchers in B.C., and Clifford said earlier this week he has heard of only three who have tested positive for COVID-19.