The Central Saanich Fire Department in Central Saanich. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)

The Central Saanich Fire Department in Central Saanich. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)

Saanich Peninsula firefighters adjust to new pandemic reality while protecting public

Social distancing rules create new realities for firefighters

The unfolding COVID-19 pandemic might have changed the routines of firefighters across the Saanich Peninsula in many ways, but somethings remain the same.

“For us, as an essential service, it’s business as usual, when it comes to responding to structure fires or motor vehicle incidents,” said Chris Vrabel, chief of the Central Saanich Fire Department.

Brett Mikkelsen, chief of the Sidney Volunteer Fire Department, strikes a comparable note. “It seems very quiet out on the streets, but the work and calls don’t stop,” he said. “It has definitely slowed down a little bit, but we are still doing calls. People are still getting sick and things are still going on.”

Case in point two recent fires in Central Saanich.

On Sunday, March 22, 27 firefighters from Central Saanich, Sidney and North Saanich responded to a fire in the 2700-block of Skyline Crescent that caused extensive damage to a family home. On April 10, crews responded to a Friday night fire that damaged a Brentwood Bay pub.

RELATED: Sunday fire causes extensive damage to Central Saanich home

RELATED: No one injured in Friday night fire at Brentwood Bay bar

These incidents raise a number of questions, starting with the question of how firefighters douse fires while maintaining social distancing. Vrabel said department members do their best possible to maintain physical distancing in all of their activities.

“There are times when it is just not practical,” he said. “We are a very safety-focused culture and we work on a buddy system. We do our best to be as practical as we can.”

These incidents underscore how things have changed for first responders. For one, only serious incidents such as structure fires trigger a call-out to all members. “That is done to protect fire first responders and also to preserve personal protective equipment,” said Vrabel.

And it is only when the bell rings for serious incidents that firefighters will leave their homes to assemble and form a response, said Vrabel.

This reality of gathering only when absolutely necessary has meant that in-person practices — an essential element of the job — have been largely suspended, or when absolutely necessary held in a safe manner in accordance with social distancing recommendations.

“We no longer train in the same traditional manner,” said Mikkelsen. “We would all typically gather here on Thursday night and break into three to four different groups and train.” In the face of social distancing, training has moved online with assignments done through interactive methods, he said. “That is how we are delivering training during this situation.”

COVID-19 has also changed how other social behaviour among firefighters. First, nobody can report for duty when they are experiencing any flu or cold symptoms, said Vrabel. “The second is that we check in regularly with our staff to ensure that they are practicing physical distancing when they are at home, away from the fire station, and with their families, so that their [would-be exposure] is minimized to the greatest degree possible.”

Without these restrictions, the department would not be able to deliver services, said Vrabel.

But if COVID-19 has changed these elements, the departments have tried to maintain external and internal relations as best as possible.

The automatic aid agreement in the case of any structure fire across the Saanich Peninsula between the departments in Sidney, Central Saanich and North Saanich remains in place and contingency plans exist for the three Peninsula departments to support each other in case one department goes out of action because of a large number of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases.

Both Sidney and Central Saanich are also making sure their members remain as connected as possible under the circumstances.

“It’s really important that in the department we maintain the social connection as much as possible,” said Vrabel, pointing programs designed to help firefighters as well as their families deal with various stresses. “That is what keeps us together — we are a family.” Sidney also offers support along those lines.

Finally, both departments have also received measures of support from the community. In the case of Central Saanich, it came in the form of a thank-you note, while Sidney residents living in the neighbourhood near the fire hall have paid tribute through notes posted in front windows and noise-making.

The Peninsula News Review also reached to the North Saanich Fire Department.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Lieutenant Alex Levitt at the Central Saanich Fire Department in Central Saanich. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)

Lieutenant Alex Levitt at the Central Saanich Fire Department in Central Saanich. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)

Captain Brennan Gummer at the Central Saanich Fire Department in Central Saanich. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)

Captain Brennan Gummer at the Central Saanich Fire Department in Central Saanich. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)

Just Posted

On Nov. 16, Saanich council received the 2020 Housing Needs Report which provides a summary of the district’s housing market and the anticipated future needs of the municipality. (District of Saanich)
New report highlights need for diverse, affordable housing in Saanich

Saanich Housing Needs Report shows current supply doesn’t meet community needs

Bystanders attend to a cyclist who is knocked to the pavement of Oak Bay Avenue. Witnesses say the cyclist was knocked off their bike in a dooring incident on Oak Bay Avenue at Fell Street at around 12:40 p.m. on Wednesday. 
(Daniel Opden Dries Photo)
UPDATED: VicPD tickets driver for ‘dooring’ cyclist on Oak Bay Avenue

Incident occurred at Oak Bay Avenue and Fell Street

West Shore RCMP pulled over a 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee on Nov. 23 after noting that it didn’t appear safe for the road. (West Shore RCMP)
West Shore RCMP pull over vehicle held together by tape and cargo strap

RCMP deemed the vehicle unsafe for the road and had it towed away

The prevalence of crashes in intersections, like this one at Blanshard Street and Saanich Road, has Saanich’s mayor seeking more information on the effectiveness of red-light cameras in changing driver behaviour. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
More red-light cameras may be part of the future for drivers in Saanich

Mayor wants CRD traffic safety commission to research effectiveness of intersection cameras

The new plan informing development Central Saanich’s Saanichton Village calls for wider, greener sidewalks among other measures. (Black Press Media File)
Central Saanich signs off on Saanichton Village Plan

Plan will inform development applications within Saanichton

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 24

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(AP Photo/Haven Daley)
POLL: Do you think the current COVID-19 restrictions should continue beyond Dec. 7?

One week into the new restrictions to curtail the spread of the… Continue reading

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

An excavator was stolen from a rural property south of Nanaimo this month, say police. (Photos submitted)
Excavator stolen from property south of Nanaimo

Bobcat Mini believed to have been stolen between Nov. 12-14, say RCMP

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Picture of two swans leaving the Cowichan estuary moments before one was shot out of the sky. (Submitted photo)
Petition to stop hunting in Cowichan estuary after swan shot

Hunters blame shooting on illegal poachers

Most Read