A Grand Forks Fire/Rescue engine arrives at a grass fire at City Park Thursday, Aug. 26. Photo: Laurie Tritschler

A Grand Forks Fire/Rescue engine arrives at a grass fire at City Park Thursday, Aug. 26. Photo: Laurie Tritschler

Grand Forks’ fire department ramps down amid COVID-19 spike

Weekly practices suspended out of concern for members’ health, department

Grand Forks Fire/Rescue (GF/FR) has had to scale back non-emergency operations due to the latest resurgence of COVID-19 infections in and around the city.

Acting out of an abundance of caution, the department and city hall suspended fire hall practices for two weeks starting Tuesday, Sept. 7, according to Dep. Chief Rich Piché and the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, Duncan Redfearn. GF/FR will continue to respond to emergency calls as normal and will continue to train new recruits online, he explained.

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The pause came one day before the BC Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC) reported 45 new infections in the Grand Forks local health area (LHA) in the week ending Sept. 4 — a 15 per cent increase over the week before. Infection rates spiked in the Grand Forks LHA in early June and again in early July, according to the BC CDC.

Avoiding close contact among firefighters will meanwhile help prevent a departmental collapse.

“If 10 to 15 per cent of our members went down with COVID, we’d have to rely on mutual aid from other departments on every single structure fire,” Piché said, explaining, “that would mean we’d be calling on Christina Lake — they’re 20 minutes away.”

The department would temporarily cease to function if half its members were to be infected, he continued.

Piché said GF/FR and the city will reevaluate the situation on Wednesday, Sept. 14. In the meantime, the department is reconsidering its upcoming fall open house, further owing to concerns about COVID-19.

The department took a similar pause, again out of an abundance of caution, at the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, Redfearn said.


 

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