Edmonton police, fire services hit with COVID-19 outbreaks, 247 members currently in isolation

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Edmonton’s first responders are being hit hard by the rapid spread of COVID-19 with both fire and police services facing significant outbreaks.

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In total, 247 police and fire members are currently isolating as the services work to juggle scheduling and staffing in order to maintain the critical services for the public.

During a media update Wednesday afternoon, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services Chief Joe Zatylny said 53 front-line firefighters are currently in isolation, amounting to 4.8 per cent of the service. There were outbreaks of 10 or more cases at four stations across the city — Lauderdale, Clareview, Terwillegar and Ellerslie — but Zatylny said those locations were heavily sanitized and remain open.

Emergency response isn’t being impacted, but the fire service is postponing routine fire inspections for buildings until Jan. 14. Inspections for business licence applications and citizen complaints will continue, Zatylny said.

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“Edmonton Fire Rescue Services has systems in place to maintain service levels in response to staffing disruptions. Vaccination rates for our firefighters are high and the safety of Edmontonians and our firefighters continues to be our top priority,” he said. “I want to provide that reassurance to all Edmontonians that we will continue to stand by and answer their calls in the times of need.”

The outbreak among Edmonton firefighters was first reported by Alberta Health in its COVID-19 update Tuesday and the city then confirmed 51 members in isolation. Zatylny said it’s unclear how the cases spread, whether through the fire stations or out in the community, and it’s not known how many of the cases are deemed to be the Omicron variant.

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Enhanced cleaning protocols and physical distancing requirements were added across the fire service in an effort to combat the spread and Zatylny said screening will continue for all firefighters before the start of shifts. No volunteer firefighters or crews from other jurisdictions are being brought in at this time to supplement and Zatylny said they have been able to make the schedule work by moving around shifts.

“We continue to backfill using off-duty staff to ensure that we can meet our service demands,” he said. “As we look at items like training or other non-emergency activities, we’ll reprioritize them as well to absorb some of the staffing impacts that we’ll see.”

100 active cases among police service

Edmonton’s police service is also facing staffing challenges amid the rapid spread of the virus with 194 personnel currently in isolation.

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In a statement to Postmedia Wednesday afternoon, EPS spokeswoman Landis Reichle said of the employees currently in isolation, 100 are positive with COVID-19. This includes 77 sworn members, 22 civilians and one contract worker. There are 151 sworn members currently in isolation, amounting to about eight per cent of staff.

With the rapid spread of the virus, Reichle said the increase in isolation has challenged the service but it continues to adjust to ensure front-line services can be maintained. The cases are spread throughout the service and not specific to a few stations, Reichle said.

“Our increased isolations have challenged our organization, but we are continuing to assess and adjust our staffing as required to maintain frontline service delivery. We truly appreciate the hard work of all our employees as we navigate through this new wave of challenges,” Reichle said in the statement. “With the rise of positive cases in Alberta, the EPS continues to reinforce and evolve its duty protocols for the safety of EPS employees and the public to mitigate COVID-19 impacts on our employees and our service delivery.”

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Barring prolonged illness, Reichle said 113 employees are set to return over the next week.

Last week, the province amended the isolation requirement from 10 to five days for fully vaccinated Albertans if symptoms have cleared. The police service said it is looking at the options available but hasn’t yet decided to exercise that option.

Zatylny said the fire service is more focused on other measures to fill the gap and ensuring non-positive members can quickly return when asymptomatic. He said it’s too early to tell how long this unprecedented spread will last to know if service levels will eventually be impacted and additional resources required.

“If we’re looking at the next six weeks losing a high percentage of staff, we have to consider what that is doing to our staff off time and bringing them into supplement service and look at other measures,” he said. “But right now it’s too early to tell what the impacts or how long and how quickly this will spread through our ranks to be able to answer the next steps in impacting service levels.”

Across the City of Edmonton organization, including fire services, 200 current cases of COVID-19 were reported Tuesday, with the city noting it is working to ensure disruptions to services are minimized. Operations at the city’s Animal Care and Control Centre have been impacted with the centre closing intake to healthy animals as of Jan. 1 due to staff illnesses. Three veterinary staff are off, two in isolation and one with an unrelated illness. There is no timeline for the resumption of regular operations.

duscook@postmedia.com

twitter.com/dustin_cook3

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