Flu Fells Emergency Workers in Calgary



| Friday, November 6, 2009

Flu is partly to blame for a higher-than-average number of Calgary police, firefighters and air ambulance staff calling in sick.

About nine per cent of police officers are off sick, up from the usual three per cent, Chief Rick Hanson said Thursday.

"Which is disconcerting, because certainly it's higher than other years, but not surprising," Hanson said. "It hasn't affected our service delivery at this point in time.

"It's not all H1N1. And we're quite accepting of the fact that we'd rather have our folks err to the side of caution when they get sick, rather than come to work and then find out later that they did have the flu."

About 100 of the fire department's workers are sick, out of about 1,300 staff, Deputy Chief Ken Uzeloc said. The department tracks absences by platoon.

"Our highest numbers right now are about 10 per cent on one platoon and on our day staff, Uzeloc said. "And roughly about half of that is attributed directly to flu-like symptoms or influenzas."

Paramedics and medical staff have had access to the vaccine in hospitals but many are sick or staying at home to take care of ill relatives. As much as 20 per cent of the STARS air ambulance workforce is not reporting to work.

"It has its impact. We're not immune to that," said Dr. Dennis Nesdoly, chief medical officer for the STARS program.

Tom Sampson, deputy chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, said he has been asking Alberta Health for the H1N1 vaccine for other front-line emergency staff, such as police and firefighters, for more than two weeks.

The province is focusing on vaccinating young children and pregnant women, who would be most at risk if they contract H1N1.

"Now that there seems to be more of a plan, we're fully prepared to wait until those high-risk people are done," Uzeloc said. "And then we think the first-responding community should be the next in line, as we're the ones out there trying to respond to these medical conditions that people have and assist the citizens."

Hanson said he has a meeting scheduled with the assistant deputy minister in the solicitor general's office.

"I'm hoping to hear from him if we're going to get vaccines, what that priority would be, how many we'll receive," Hanson said.

The police force has surveyed its staff to identify who will need the vaccine first. Hanson said he hopes the absenteeism will stabilize after officers are inoculated.

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