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Staff recommending volunteer firefighters be vaccinated

UPDATE: Council decided to include volunteer firefighters in municipal vaccination policy, but eliminated wording with regard to temporary leaves of absence from attending first response calls, in favour of allowing regular COVID-19 testing for those not able to provide proof of vaccination. Regular testing frequency is to be discussed as rapid testing is not possible in situations where volunteers are on their way to an emergency.

The decision followed a deputation by Sarah Sparks who presented a letter signed by more than 50 Rednersville Road residents concerned that disciplinary measures could hamper emergency response times.

“For a person in cardiac arrest, timely response in critical,” she noted.

It was stated 124 of 134 volunteer firefighters are fully vaccinated.

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Council will consider adding Prince Edward County volunteer firefighters to municipal staff required to be fully vaccinated.

If approved at Tuesday night’s council meeting, they would be included in the bylaw which covers municipal employees and council members. Those who do not comply may also be subject to progressive disciplinary measures up to and including dismissal. Firefighters would be required to provide proof of full vaccination by Dec. 13.

At present there are 132 volunteer firefighters assigned to one of the 10 fire stations in Prince Edward County. While the information has not yet been collected formally, it is believed 115 of the 132 (87 per cent) are fully vaccinated.

In September, council approved a mandatory vaccination of employees policy which did not apply to voluntary firefighters, only those that are also medical first responders as recognized by the province.

The provincial government required as of Sept. 22, that people be fully vaccinated and provide proof to access certain public settings and facilities. The province applied extra restrictions to those who are identified as health care professionals to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus when in high-risk settings. This applies to those who work in a hospital, long-term care facility, licensed retirement home, or group home housing vulnerable residents, and those firefighters that are trained as medical first responders.

“In addition, volunteer firefighters who are not COVID-19 vaccinated are not permitted to enter the fire station for the purposes of training sessions and meetings which was implemented in accordance with provincial legislation to minimize the transmission of the COVID-19 virus,” stated Tim Kraemer, Deputy Fire Chief, in his report to council. “This reduces the ability of unvaccinated firefighters from participating in training required to maintain the skills critical to the functions of fire and rescue operations, and has been identified internally as potentially compounding risk.”

The County required all employees and members of council to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 15, 2021. Those who were not able to provide proof of being fully vaccinated are required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

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