Municipal facilities are currently closed to the public. Soranne Floarea/The Free Press

Emergency response teams continue services during pandemic

The RCMP, SAR, and fire department proceed with operations throughout COVID-19 situation

Despite the closures of various businesses and services throughout the Elk Valley, emergency response teams are continuing to operate, albeit with alterations to existing practices.

Fernie Search and Rescue (SAR) remains operational although the team is taking extra precautions to limit the risk of spreading the virus. According to Simon Piney, head of Fernie SAR, any technician who is exhibiting even the slightest of symptoms is being asked to stay home.

Furthermore, all general and specialist trainings have been cancelled in an effort to practice social distancing. Medical protocols have also been revised to account for increased protective measures for responders, including greater biohazard awareness both during and after responses, as well as risk assessments of patients to determine if responders need to self isolate after exposure during calls.

“Every time we respond we are likely to have to take responders out of action for a few weeks. We have three helicopter rescue pilots in the valley and it is very difficult to self distance in a helicopter on a medical response call. A few rescues and we will potentially diminish our response capability dramatically, and that could be disastrous for the next person needing a backcountry rescue after that. I guess our message, now more than ever is to play safe,” said Piney.

Piney recognized the need to take advantage of the outdoors in order to stay sane during these times of uncertainty. This being said, he urged backcountry users to make increasingly conservative decisions when it comes to activity, terrain choice, and risk taking in order to avoid overloading the already strained B.C. healthcare system. This includes understanding the current avalanche risk on Fernie Alpine Resort, and respecting management’s request to not tour up the hill as it may pose a hazard to any workers still up there.

The RCMP also continue to provide policing services to maintain community safety, while working closely with health agencies at all levels in an effort to best monitor and respond to the virus.

Dwayne McDonald is the acting commanding officer of the B.C. RCMP. He has offered assurances that the B.C. RCMP employs a number of procedures and protocols to best deal with the pandemic in a way that reduces risk to team members and the communities they serve.

“As an employer, we are also here to support all our employees. We continue to provide employees with regular updates, implement prevention measures within the workplace, and are supporting telework options. At this time, for everyone, education on this matter is so important. By increasing employee awareness around proper hygiene etiquette and health protocols we can do our part during this health emergency,” said McDonald.

The Elk Valley RCMP is also taking precautions in response to the worldwide pandemic. According to Constable Debra Katerenchuk with the Elk Valley RCMP, there are several temporary changes being implemented.

“All front counter services including but not limited to civilian fingerprinting services, criminal record or police information checks and found property will not be conducted until further notice,” she said in a press release.

Katerenchuk also noted that anyone exhibiting symptoms is asked not to come to the police detachment for any services.

“Our priority continues to be community safety and security and we are taking these measures to help ensure core policing duties will not be impacted,” she said. “We appreciate your continued support and understanding.”

Provincial measures across police departments in B.C. include police officers and personnel being debriefed about required safety measures when interacting with at risk individuals, including how, where, and when to use personal protective equipment should they be exposed to the infection.

“These are truly unprecedented times. We are asking you for patience and understanding. And more importantly, we are asking for your support. We are all members of the community and all of us and our loved ones are being affected by this global pandemic,” said McDonald. “Everyone has a role to play in response to mitigating this health issue. We are committed to ensuring that the B.C. RCMP will be there when British Columbians need us. Public safety is our priority. As our province takes measures to flatten the curve of COVID-19, we thank the public for their mindfulness and cooperation.”

Services continue to run as usual at the Fernie Fire Department, though some alterations have been made to better protect against the spread of the virus.

“Fernie is fortunate for a community of this size to have invested in developing a fire rescue service that includes both career firefighters and an amazing auxiliary firefighter group,” said Michael Boronowski, chief administrative officer for the City of Fernie. “The team continues to respond to emergencies, but we’ve obviously had to adapt with additional safe work procedures and additional personal protective equipment, and have additional screening of staff to reduce the risk of spread should anyone contract COVID-19.”

According to Boronowski, operations are ongoing with support from mutual aid partners, the regional district, and the province through Provincial Regional Emergency Operations Centre (PREOC). The City of Fernie has also activated their Emergency Operations Centre, and are preparing for where this situation may lead through creating contingency plans.

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