VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Sixteen B.C. firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19 after fighting wildfires in California despite strict protocols to curb the spread of the virus.
Three of the firefighters contracted the virus while in the U.S., with the 13 others testing positive upon their return.
Forrest Tower, with the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS), says all efforts were made to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. While in California, the firefighters weren’t interacting with American firefighters and stayed in their own bubbles. Going into quarantine once back in Canada had been part of that plan as well.
Tower says all 16 firefighters have been isolating upon their arrival so there isn’t a risk to the general public, but it does show how the virus can still be transmitted.
“I mean, we can have all the layers of protection and best practices and we’re still in this situation now. I would agree that it does go to show you people should be taking this seriously.”
More than 400 BCWS firefighters travelled to the U.S. this summer to help battle the wildfires.
He explains the development of protocols had been happening since March to determine how to fight fires during the pandemic.
Tower notes the added challenge of sending firefighters to the U.S. where the COVID-19 impact is far worse.
“It’s definitely a challenging operation to carry out, but I think we did have some pretty extensive protocols to do the best that we can to keep the health and safety of every BCWS member in mind,” he says.
Tower says there aren’t any immediate changes coming to the service’s protocols.
“I would say that we’re on the right track having protocols to carry out. It’s pretty difficult to do while firefighting, with keeping physical distancing and mask use and all that kind of stuff that adds complications to your response time,” he says. “I think that for sure we’ll be looking at this and seeing how we can continue to adapt our protocols going into next season.”
None of the firefighters are experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms and are all said to be doing well.