North Westside Fire Rescue paid on-call firefighters were offered a home in La Casa to self-isolate if needed, but no the Regional District of Central Okanagan must get in touch with the homeowner to strike up a contract to protect all parties involved. (Google Maps)

COVID-19: Okanagan firefighters await news on potential self-isolation house

La Casa homeowner offered rental unit to North Westside Fire Rescue at no cost

The novel coronavirus has many first responders worried about the potential of cross contamination when responding to medical calls. North Westside Fire Rescue (NWFR) firefighters, for instance, worry about coming into contact and being exposed to individuals infected with COVID-19 and the likelihood of bringing the virus home to their families.

A La Casa resident saw the opportunity to lend a hand to NWFR, if necessary, and offered her rental home as an isolation home.

Some hotels and AirBnB owners in the province have made rooms available for frontline workers who need to self-isolate from their families to prevent the potential spread of the virus. But Lt. Rob Gajda, who has been with NWFR for more than eight years, said this was the first offer the fire hall on Udell Road in Vernon received.

Lt. Gajda said the crew was honoured with the grand gesture, but the Regional District of Central Okanagan (RDCO) was standing in the way.

“The regional district has forbidden us from taking advantage of that offer,” he said in a telephone interview.

“What we want to do is let the public know they’re standing between firefighters that are going out on calls,” he said.

Gajda said this shouldn’t be any of the RDCO’s concern as it’s not in their jurisdiction, but RDCO communications specialist Bruce Smith said as it relates to paid on-call firefighters within its boundaries, it is under the RDCO’s jurisdiction.

“We’re looking into it,” Smith said about the isolation house.

“We haven’t needed anything like this for any of our essential service staff so we’re hoping to talk to the property owner and work out an agreement protecting us and them.”

Smith said he hopes the firefighters won’t need a facility like this and they “do what they need to on the frontline to stay safe.”

The RDCO will be contacting the homeowner in La Casa, Smith said.

“It is a really generous offer,” he said, but there are liability issues and a contract will ensure everyone is comfortable.

Gajda, who has two children at home, said he’s not the only firefighter on payroll with children or members of the family who may be more susceptible to the virus.

“A lot of our firefighters are reluctant to respond to calls because they are afraid to get sick,” he said. “The RDCO is affecting our ability to serve our community and there is no reason for it.”

Fire Chief Jason Satterthwaite, who has served the station for more than 15 years, said he has a newborn baby and a young son at home and nowhere to self-isolate if necessary.

“I have a tent and a sleeping bag ready,” he said. “You never know when these calls are going to happen, it could be 2 a.m., and there are no hotels in Fintry so we’d have to take a trip into Vernon or Kelowna to find accommodation.”

He said people have offered the fire hall use of personal recreational vehicles, but the Chief said those would probably also fall under the RDCO’s liability concerns.

Chief Satterthwaite said he is looking forward to speaking with the RDCO about the options available, including the isolation house in La Casa — located only a few minutes from the fire station.

An isolation house would be beneficial especially for those “on the edge,” he said, as it would help reluctant firefighters come to work knowing they won’t need to put their families at risk.

READ MORE: Conservation officers patrol closed North Okanagan and Shuswap rec sites over Easter long weekend

READ MORE: Open burning still cancelled, North Okanagan district says


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Caitlin.clow@vernonmorningstar.com

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