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Port Moody has a plan if firefighters start getting sick with COVID-19

The department has 45 firefighters, but four are off sick
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Port Moody fire chief Darcey O'Riordan says the department has a plan to cope with rising absenteeism due to COVID-19

Port Moody’s fire chief says his department has a plan if firefighters get sick with COVID-19 and are off the job.

Darcey O’Riordan said currently four firefighters of Port Moody Fire Rescue’s (PMFR) complement of 45 are off work sick, but a contingency plan with their union, Firefighters IAFF Local 2399, ensures no shift will be left short-staffed should absenteeism escalate beyond 20 per cent of the department’s active staff. That includes juggling overtime and vacation time.

If the number of absent firefighters grows to more than 40 per cent, the department can also call upon its 20 volunteers who train weekly. Although, O’Riordan conceded, their capabilities would have to be evaluated on an individual basis to determine how they can fill in.

As well, PMFR has mutual aid agreements with neighbouring fire departments if needed.

“We will work with other local FD’s to ensure community safety and response,” O’Riordan said, adding if things get so bad even that’s not enough then the department might have to limit the types of incidents it can respond to.

But, he said, it’s unlikely to get to that point.

O’Riordan said with almost two years of coping with the anxieties of the COVID-19 pandemic behind them, firefighters have become pretty attuned to the measures they have to take to stay on the job.

“They’re pretty dedicated to keeping each other safe,” he said. “Nobody wants to expose anyone else or bring it home to their families.”

Those precautions have heightened recently because of the virulence of the latest Omicron variant of the contagion that’s causing staffing concerns in all kinds of industries, including health care.

O’Riordan said platoon captains meet before every shift to assess their staffing levels and make a plan going forward.

He said changes to isolation rules after an exposure are also easing staffing pressures. With the department’s firefighters working shifts of four days on followed by four days off, adhering to a five-day quarantine means they’re unlikely to miss a full rotation.

“We’ve been lucky so far, knock on wood.”