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Burin Peninsula police officer, paramedic and firefighter reflect on how COVID-19 has changed their worlds
For firefighters in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, the fire hall is more than a place where they store their bunker gear.
For many of them, it’s almost another home.
“Our members, usually in normal times, if you pass the hall, you’re dropping in the hall,” Marystown Fire Chief Justin Bolt told The Telegram recently.
First responders had to make many adjustments early last year when COVID-19 spread around the globe, of course, the more visible and obvious of which related to the necessity of making sure they were properly protected from the virus with sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE).
Given the nature of the work, routinely responding to high-stress situations, however, the social bonds between first responders — even extending to their immediate families — can often be particularly tight.
Pulling back from those connections, as required under the pandemic protocols was tough, too, Bolt said.
“When the pandemic started, the social impact was tremendous,” he said.
“It’s like our second family, we’re basically together, our families are together, but that all had to cease. Through last year, basically for the majority of things, events were cancelled, and you know that did play a part on everyone’s lives.”
The pandemic has “put a little damper” on the camaraderie between first responders with Marystown Ambulance, agreed primary care paramedic Ross Murley, and the situation has been similar for police officers on the Burin Peninsula, said RCMP Const. Sarah Hood.
“When the pandemic started, the social impact was tremendous." — Justin Bolt
COVID-19 put an end to detachment get-togethers to celebrate achievements and milestones or to recognize a colleague who was transferring to a new position.
“Obviously, morale-wise, it’s not the best, but we make the most of it, and when we can do anything social, we do,” said Hood, who has been with the RCMP detachment in Marystown for almost two years.
In the fire department’s case, Bolt said seeing each other for virtual training helped bridge the social gap, and until the recent Alert Level 5 circuit breaker, firefighters were able to gather in groups again for in-person training sessions.
“Even that itself is a great relief in some ways, you know, and it gets people in together. Virtually is good, but it’s still not as good as in person,” he said.
Rising to the challenges
Police officers and the RCMP’s other frontline employees have risen to the challenges of the past year, said Hood, who was exposed to a positive case of COVID-19 during a routine call for service a couple of months ago.
It was a tense time for her and her family, she said, adding she has two small children at home.
“Those two days between arranging to get a test, getting the test and then waiting for the results were two long, very stressful days, so I understand that other people are going through, as well, when they’re waiting for their test results to come back,” Hood said.
In that case, Hood said the detachment found out after the fact the individual was positive, so the PPE did its job.
The RCMP had all the supports in place when she was off, said Hood, who acknowledged police officers are used to running towards danger and that hasn’t changed because of COVID-19.
Murley, who has been in the emergency medical services field for 30 years, said COVID-19 has generally “slowed everything down” for paramedics, which has been frustrating at times.
Paramedics are used to adapting to a variety of situations on the fly, however, he said, and COVID-19 has been no different.
Murley said his colleagues have been there to support each other where they can, including pitching in to make sure ambulances are cleaned down after calls.
“That way it keeps the morale a little bit high,” he said.
Bolt said donning PPE on the way to a call has become as routine as putting on a helmet.
COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the department’s ability to fundraise for vital equipment upgrades, however.
“We’ve been successful in doing a few small fundraisers … but we’re thankful for the community support and businesses that have reached out to us and still continue to support us,” he said.
Paul Herridge covers reports on the Burin Peninsula. [email protected]