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Local union frustrated firefighters left out of COVID-19 vaccine phase

The President of the Grande Prairie Firefighters Association says the province has made a mistake in not listing fire officials as part of the latest COVID-19 vaccination phase.

The province recently expanded its vaccine rollout into Phase 2C, which saw around 240,000 healthcare workers now qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine, but firefighters left out.

“We’ve been told as recently as today that firefighters are strong and robust and we can’t be placed in front of people who have underlying health conditions or other essential service workers, and that’s why we are being excluded,” says Ian MacDonald.

However, in March, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said vaccine priority decisions were made based on the personal risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes, not just the exposure risk.

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MacDonald says he is happy to see essential personnel, like paramedics, worked into the province’s vaccination rollout along with frontline medical staff, but he believes the exclusion of fire officials is a serious miscalculation.

“In 2019 we responded to over 3,000 medical co-response calls working alongside the city’s paramedics, exposing ourselves to a variety of hazards, physical and otherwise,” he argues.

He adds that the number was dropped to approximately 1,200 calls in 2020 in an effort to limit potential exposure. MacDonald notes there are 68 firefighters in the city, but they’ve been down as many as 10 at a time due to isolation requirements from either having contracted COVID-19 or being identified as a close contact.

“Resource wise, if we were to lose one or two platoons because of this, our ability to respond to fires, car accidents, medical co-response calls can be severely compromised.”

MacDonald says the because local fire also works with EMS in nearby communities, which could potentially further spread of the virus.

“To think when we wait 20 minutes or 30 minutes for an ambulance to come from Spirit River that we’re not an essential part of that delivery model, it’s quite baffling,” he says.

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