First responders anticipating staff shortages as Omicron wave continues
On Thursday, the Victoria Police Department invoked a rarely used section of its collective agreement that allows it to redeploy any member of the force to maintain proper patrol staffing levels. The change comes as staffing shortages are expected to hit the department due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
“Starting on Monday, we’ve asked a number of our officers from a number of our specialty units to redeploy to the front lines,” said VicPD Chief Del Manak.
Manak says as the Omicron variant makes its way through the community and his department, this is a much-needed step to ensure patrol staffing levels will be maintained.
“The situation more than likely is going to get worse before it gets better,” said Manak.
Vancouver Island’s RCMP detachments are closely monitoring staffing levels.
Saanich Police Department is taking extra COVID-19 precautions to keep its staff safe. It has suspended the reserve constable program for the time being, and patrol officers are riding solo in cars unless a special response in needed.
Fire departments are also anticipating staff shortages due to Omicron.
“We are adjusting our plans on an hourly basis, because what worked yesterday and the plan we had yesterday, it changes overnight,” said Chief Paul Hurst of View Royal Fire Rescue, which has so far stayed relatively virus-free.
“Of course, we’re worried that if a lot of staff gets (the Omicron variant), then that limits our ability to respond to calls,” he said.
A mutual-aid agreement between the View Royal, Colwood and Langford fire departments has been in place for some time during the pandemic.
Now, the three departments are willing to share staff in case one of the them experiences an outbreak.
“If it means you having a Colwood firefighter in a View Royal station or having a Langford firefighter in a Colwood station, that’s what we’ll do,” said Hurst.
Hurst says calls may have to be prioritized if staffing levels become an issue, and minor medical-aid calls could be put on the back burner.
Paramedics were already struggling with reduced staff before Omicron.
“We’ve seen since the summer a consistent pattern of 30 per cent of our ambulances on a regular basis not staffed because of our staffing challenges,” said Troy Clifford, provincial president with the Ambulance Paramedics and Dispatchers of B.C.
The union representing BC Ambulance employees says Omicron is only going to add to the staff shortage.
“Omicron has added another additional pressure on systems that are already maxed out,” said Clifford. “The public is fatigued and we’re fatigued.”
B.C. Emergency Health Services says it is closely monitoring staffing levels across the province and taking the actions, when possible, to mitigate absences.