Rural volunteer firefighters are once again asking to be treated like other emergency responders and be included on the priority list for COVID-19 immunization.
“Many, many fire departments are the first departments on scene for medical calls. There’s no EMS stationed in Penhold. We arrive on scene first. We are the ones who have the first patient contact so it only would make sense that we be on the vaccination priority list,” said Penhold fire chief Jim Pendergast.
The Alberta Firefighters Association continues to urge the province to include all firefighters in Alberta in Phase 2C of the phased immunization program. So far only paramedics, police and corrections officers and sheriffs are included.
Earlier this year, the association said it was told by government that: “Phase 2 is estimated to begin in April, depending on vaccine supply, and will continue to focus on Albertans who are at increased risk of COVID-19 disease. Planning is underway for this phase and targeted populations will be communicated in early 2021.”
Pendergast said crews have responded to over 20 COVID medical calls in recent months, but only about eight fire medics are eligible for immunization out of 37-member volunteer fire crew.
“We go to every call prepared (for COVID) because you don’t know. Sometimes the information isn’t available to us, or sometimes it comes a little too late, so we’re always prepared for whatever we go to.”
He said so far, firefighters have not been exposed on the job, but some have while away from the firehall. When that happens, entire crews must isolate for two weeks.
“We agree 100 per cent that police, paramedics and other emergency responders should be (a priority) but firefighters should be on the exact same level because we’re there first,” Pendergast said.
A statement from Alberta Health said due to the limited vaccine supply, seniors and others most at risk of severe outcomes, and those who work directly with them, continue to be the focus of the COVID immunization program.
“We recognized that firefighters and volunteer firefighters, as well as many others, would benefit from receiving the vaccine, and we want to offer it to them as soon as possible,” the statement said.
Firefighters aged 65 and older are now eligible for the vaccine, and those with underlying conditions, including diabetes, will receive it in Phase 2B.
“We will continue expanding the rollout as more vaccines arrive. Decisions on Phase 3 have not yet been made.”