Sudbury firefighters told to isolate after coming into contact with confirmed case of COVID-19
SUDBURY -- It's probably one of the most selfless jobs one can do and it is inherently dangerous.
The Christian Labour Association of Canada, which represents more than 200 volunteer firefighters in Greater Sudbury, said several of its members had to isolate after coming into contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 during the summer, reportedly at a pit party in the community of Garson.
Despite published reports, the association said at no time did it confirm one of their firefighters contracted the virus.
"Our members attended what I was told was a bonfire and following their attendance at that scene, I was told there was a confirmed case from that location," said CLAC representative Matt Walchuk. "Once we became aware of that, we worked closely with our members and the management to ensure all necessary steps were taken."
Greater Sudbury Fire Services said, after taking direction from Public Health Sudbury & Districts, roughly 10 firefighters were told to self-isolate.
The city and the union are not commenting on the results of those who were tested for COVID-19, citing privacy concerns.
Deputy Chief Jesse Oshell said they had to bring in additional resources to ensure no part of the city, including Garson, was understaffed.
At the time of the contact, first responders were getting several reports of large gatherings, including reported pit parties and bonfires.
"There are those that aren't following the provincial recommendations for gathering in outdoor spaces and we still have to respond to those, so as a deputy chief looking to protect his firefighters, certainly we ensure our fighters have again their personal protective equipment (PPE) in place," Oshell said.
He said securing PPE has been a constant issue, as it has been for many organizations.
"We, as I mentioned, put into place policies, protocols and procedures so that our firefighters and our staff members all have the equipment they need when they're going to these fire scenes or emergencies," said Oshell.
When pressed about the public's right to know about any potential contact, Oshell replied they were taking direction from Public Health Sudbury, as well as Public Health Ontario.
Public Health Sudbury has begun releasing less information lately about exposures and is now not releasing particular details like age.
As a result of that direction, it's unclear if the City of Greater Sudbury will be releasing any information about exposures in the future.
Other communities in northern Ontario, North Bay, Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie, have confirmed to CTV News that none of their firefighters has contracted the disease as a result of the job.
In the meantime, now that the potential exposure is behind them and the individuals have returned to work, Walchuk is hopeful about what it will mean moving forward.
"It is a good reminder, after all," he said. "There's varying degrees of support and measures that you should and shouldn't be taking right now, but I think our members have done a really good job in doing what they need to do to stay safe and so far we're cautiously optimistically about the future."