WorkSafe BC is investigating a rash of COVID-19 cases in the Langley Township fire department.
On Wednesday, Nov. 18, a WorkSafe spokesperson confirmed a prevention officer was looking into the outbreak that has put roughly a third of the Township’s full-time firefighters out of action.
WorkSafe has the power to review employer COVID-19 protection plans and to impose penalties.
A report was expected sometime next week.
Meanwhile, the firefighters union said as of Wednesday, Nov. 18, the number of cases had risen to 11 members who have tested positive, and another 25 who may have been exposed to the virus and are awaiting test results, or have been advised to self-isolate by Fraser Health.
Acting IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters) local 4550 president Duncan McIntosh told the Langley Advance Times the COVID cases appear to be mostly work-related.
“The information that we have thus far indicates that the majority of positive test results have been related to a workplace exposure,” McIntosh said.
Due to the resulting staffing shortages, the majority of Township fire apparatus are being staffed with three firefighters, less than the four considered as best practice (known as the “two in, two out” standard).
Three, the union said, still meets the minimum standard, with two firefighters able to go into a fire situation while one assists from outside.
And those smaller-than-usual crews are only possible because the Township is paying firefighters overtime to work longer hours, McIntosh explained.
“The employer, in our view, is doing everything they can,” McIntosh said.
“The relationship [between the union and employer] is positive and going in the right direction,” McIntosh added.
Union secretary Jordan Sparrow described the situation as “workable.”
“This is brand new for both sides,” Sparrow observed.
Back in 2015, the township approved adding eight firefighters to Township halls so that four firefighters could, usually, attend every call depending on shortfalls created by sick leaves and vacations.
A Township online post describes the department as a combination of career and paid-call firefighters consisting of “approximately 100 full-time career staff and 100 paid-call members.” Paid-call firefighters are not used to fill in for absent full-timers.
This latest outbreak is the second reported by the Township fire department.
In early March, eight Township firefighters responded to a Langley residence for a medical call. Later, they learned the man the crew was assisting tested positive for COVID-19.
The firefighters were directed to self-isolate and, by the end of the month, were all permitted to return to duty.
Langley City fire department, in response to a Langley Advance Times query, reported it has had no COVID-19 cases to date.