2020 a challenging year however fire chief confident Quinte will overcome it

This year has been challenging but it has also proven there is nothing the Quinte Region cannot overcome when it works together, said Quinte West Fire Chief John Whelan.

The Emergency Coordinator for the City of Quinte West said about 2020 that while there have been challenges, he believes the area is up to meeting them

"I’m very confident with all of the resources in the area we can get through any sort of challenge,” he said. “It does not matter if it is an emergency or a challenge.  It doesn’t matter what we are going through right now – we can do this together.”

When the pandemic began in March, he said it didn’t take long for the city to get everything together to ensure their employees and the public were safe.

Right off the bat, Whelan said, they called emergency management meetings and still to this day meet once a week. The Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal is also in contact with regional fire departments once a week to make sure they are updated and have the proper supply of personal protective equipment, he added.

Whelan tipped his hat to how well the various fire departments, EMS, police departments and 8-Wing Trenton worked together during the pandemic.

“With our mutual aid system, we can always count on one of those agencies if somebody is short of a piece of equipment,” he explained.

Whelan pointed to a moment early in the pandemic when Hastings County Warden Rick Phillips and CAO Jim Pine called an emergency meeting with all the local leaders via Zoom because there was a shortage of PPE at Hastings Manor and other facilities.

“We all got together and helped them out,” he said.  “Even our training tower in Quinte West had some extra masks to donate.  Again, we can get through it.”

When it comes to response calls, Whelan said his department is receiving more medical and mental health calls daily.

He also thanked Belleville fire who is tasked with dispatching Quinte West fire calls now for keeping his team informed of what is happening at the scene.

“Belleville dispatch is doing a great job in letting us know with medical calls that the patient was COVID positive, so our members know to gown up before they got there," he explained.  "When travelling on the 401 or especially where it is unknown, we all take our time to make sure we are protected.  

"That is our main goal -- to keep our workers safe and then we will approach the emergency as required.”  

Behind the scenes, he commended the work done by the City of Quinte West in keeping their staff employed when many other municipalities were forced to lay off employees, even in fire departments, due to budget constraints.

Quinte West’s commitment allowed the fire service to run at full capacity and keep its training up to date, he said, adding that even as the fire services budget increased by $15,000 for PPE, the city made it work without question.

“We have a good stock here," he said. "If any other departments or agencies need anything, we have got it here.”

Other highlights of the year, Whelan noted, includedthe fire department’s ability to make donations to those in need. In conjunction with the health unit, their firefighters gave out over 400 coats to kids in need, as well as donating clothing to the Adopt-A-Child program.

They also raised more than $2,500 for Movember, an annual event involving the growing of moustaches during the month of November to raise awareness of men's health issues, such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and men's suicide. 

Looking to 2021, Whelan said he feels optimistic especially with the recent news of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“I’m not sure where we rank in that profile, but we are all looking forward to it that’s for sure.”

Overall, he wants the Quinte Region to believe it can and will get through this.

“Things aren’t really good right now, but we have to be optimistic and I think we are going to be a while before we get through this,” he said.  "We will get through it.  We are just in a little bit of a lull right now.  I’m sure after Christmas and New Years' we will be back up to where we were before.”

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