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'We don't have enough firefighters': CFA calls for members to be on vaccine list

Last Updated Apr 12, 2021 at 12:41 pm MDT

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — A group of first responders in Calgary are voicing their frustration over not being included in the next phase of Alberta’s vaccine rollout.

The Calgary Firefighters Association (CFA) is sounding the alarm yet again after being excluded from the latest vaccine rollout for health care providers. Calgary fire crews say they are puzzled about being left out of Phase 2C.

Beginning Monday, some 240,000 health care workers in Alberta can begin booking their COVID-19 vaccines.

Eligible health care workers include doctors, nurses, dentists, optometrists, paramedics, pharmacists, chiropractors, midwives, naturopaths, social workers and anyone else providing direct patient care.

But fire crews are not on the list.

“A lot of people don’t realize that firefighters do more than fires,” said CFA spokesperson Matt Osborne. “We respond to medical emergencies, we respond to car accidents, hazardous material calls. We deal with direct person contact, direct patient care.

“We’re just asking, when other health care providers, when other first responders are being included, we just feel it’s reasonable to be included as well in the vaccine program.”

In any emergency situation, seconds can be a matter of life or death and though Osborne said they do their best to know what type of call they’re going to, it can change at the drop of a hat, which then puts fire crews and their family at risk.

“Is it a car accident? Is it a heart attack? Are we going to be doing CPR? Is it an opioid overdose? Is it a hazardous materials call? We need that information (to know what) equipment and the personal protective equipment we need to put on,” he said.

“It’s the most stressful part, when we’re headed to a call and if it changes, and all of a sudden we get updates that there’s COVID present or that the call changes from a possible alarm to now a medical. We then need to change our equipment to more enhanced equipment now to make sure that we’re protecting ourselves and so it is adding time and seconds matter in our business.”

Worried about the road ahead

Just last week, Osborne says they were forced to pull a dozen fire trucks out of service due to fire fighters being exposed to COVID-19.

“We’ve now had close to 50 firefighters test positive we’ve had over 115 firefighters now need to isolate because they’ve been in close contact. We don’t have enough firefighters and fire halls,” Osborne said adding that their busy season is starting with the tinder-dry conditions.

With fire crews already being stretched thin due to the growing size of Calgary, he added it’s starting to make people worried as to what’s going to happen if COVID cases continue to climb.

“We go to people’s homes, we go to people’s businesses, we’re inside people’s cars,” he said. “We go to car crashes, and when somebody’s stuck inside a car, it’s our job, we take a lot of pride in getting them out of that car.

“And unfortunately COVID is not the priority in our mind. We can’t ask them all the COVID questions. We are completely focused on helping that person on what could be one of the most difficult days of their life.”

He understands there are many others frustrated with the way the vaccine rollout is taking place but at the end of the day, the CFA just wants to be able to tell its members when they’re eligible and not that they’re being left in the dark.

Osborne is hopeful their continued talks with the government will get them an answer before they have even more firefighters exposed to the virus.