In 2020, Saanich firefighters responded to nearly 15 per cent more fires compared to 2019 – likely due to more people spending time at home amid the pandemic – and prevented millions in property damage.
During a 2021 financial planning presentation on March 4, Saanich Fire Chief Mike Burgess gave council a breakdown of the department’s emergency response profile for the previous year.
Last year, firefighters from Saanich’s four fire stations – a temporary fourth station was established at the Pearkes arena in March 2020 to permit social distancing and reduce possible exposure to the virus should a crew member get sick – responded to 3,684 calls – nearly 23 per cent less than 2019.
“Prior to the pandemic, the department averaged 395 incidents per month (but) when the pandemic hit, call volumes decreased” due to the province’s restrictions on fire departments, Burgess told council.
He said from April to September 2020, COVID-19 public health orders were implemented to strategically reduce the number of medical calls that firefighters in B.C. responded to. This was in an effort to minimize the risk of exposure and cut back on the amount of personal protective equipment used on each call.
Normally, Saanich firefighters respond to high-risk medical emergencies alongside paramedics, but last year, they were only sent to the most serious calls where a patient’s life was at risk. The rest were managed by paramedics.
While Saanich firefighters saw fewer medical emergencies, Burgess said the number of calls for fires increased by about 15 per cent as more people were spending time indoors due to the pandemic.
Between September 2019 and September 2020, the most common types of calls received by the department were medical calls (35 per cent), false alarms (19 per cent), fires (12 per cent) and motor vehicle incidents (11 per cent).
|In 2020, Saanich firefighters responded to 438 fires, 1288 medical calls and prevented more than $150 million in damage. (Via District of Saanich Draft Financial Plan 2021-2025)|
Typically, collisions represent a higher percentage of the total annual calls, but the pandemic kept more people at home and the public health orders reduced the number of crashes, Burgess explained.
The department also reported an estimated total fire loss of $4.6-million but the property firefighters managed to save was valued at an estimated $151-million.