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Emergency response largely unchanged for city police, firefighters

'We recognize that the next few weeks will be challenging for our community,' says police official
2020-03-09 Country Lane fire RB 1
Barrie firefighters respond to a recent call. Raymond Bowe/BarrieToday

Emergency responders in Barrie are taking things day-by-day, because the information around COVID-19 can change by the hour or even the minute. 

Public health officials announced Thursday that a Barrie man in his 40s has tested positive for the coronavirus following a trip to Germany and Spain. It marked the first confirmed case in the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit's catchment area.

The man went to Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) in Barrie on Monday, with tests coming back positive on Thursday. The man is self-isolating and recovering at home.

But that significant local development hasn't changed how emergency workers are going about their business for the time being. 

"Obviously, it was to be expected. It's not something that surprised us," Fire Chief Cory Mainprize told BarrieToday. "This issue is spreading not only locally but globally, so we were expecting to see some cases locally."

Should the situation arise that operational changes may need to be addressed, it will be evaluated on a daily basis, the chief added. Over the course of the next few weeks, all of the information will be constantly evaluated and re-evaluated based on provincial and national safeguards to contain the virus. 

"It's reasonable to expect that there will be some increases in the confirmed cases," said Mainprize, although he added it's too early to determine what those numbers could be. "We'll start to see some of the impact in the near future, but until we truly get a handle on the impact of those safeguards, we're not really sure."

Following a meeting of Barrie's senior staff and public health officials on Friday, the city announced sweeping changes, including the closure of all recreation facilities (including arenas), theatres and library branches until further notice in an effort to contain the virus.

"They're not seeing local transmission yet," said Mainprize, noting the local COVID-19 case involved a man who had travelled abroad. "We're not seeing the person-to-person contact spread here yet, but it's entirely possible."

For the time being, operations are currently unchanged for the department's 144 firefighters and how they go about their work on a daily basis, the fire chief noted. 

"As things start to evolve, there could be alterations (to our daily operations)," Mainprize said. "We continue to respond and attend to all of the same incidents as we would have last week or prior to the declaration of an outbreak."

Some additional safeguards have been put in place for fire crews, such as questionnaires through their colleagues with Simcoe County Paramedic Services. 

"That's just so we can make sure staff are appropriately donning their (personal protective equipment) and we've limited the number of staff on the initial contact, so we don't expose any more staff than we need to in the event (the patient is) suffering from a COVID exposure," Mainprize said.

Protective equipment for medical calls has included gloves and a mask. If there's any reason to suspect a coronavirus infection, firefighters will take extra measures, such as goggles and potentially a gown. 

"If someone fell off a ladder, that's a much different call than someone who identifies with recent travel to an infected country and are now suffering from symptoms," Mainprize added. 

Barrie police communications co-ordinator Peter Leon also said there have also been no changes in response for officers. He said there has been personal protective equipment in all cruisers for quite some time, and officers are being reminded to not hesitate to use it when needed. 

COVID-19 developments are happening at a rapid pace and that information is being shared with officers to provide "the best, most accurate and up-to-date information that is available as we move forward with this crisis," Leon added. 

"The safety of our staff, both sworn and civilian, is a top priority for the Barrie Police Service and we recognize that the next few weeks will be challenging for our community as well," Leon told BarrieToday. "We ask that everyone be patient, keep yourself updated from reputable sources and always practise proper hygiene."

Officials at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) and Simcoe County Paramedic Services were unavailable for comment on Friday by publication time. 

The Public Health Agency of Canada and the Ministry of Health advise all travellers to monitor their health for fever, cough, and difficulty breathing for 14 days after arriving back in Canada from affected countries.

If symptoms develop within 14 days, returning travellers are directed to self-isolate as quickly as possible and immediately call their health-care professionals or public health to make arrangements for possible testing. If you are very sick and planning on going to the emergency room, call ahead at 705-728-9090 and press 0.

Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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