Legislation gives local emergency responders "peace of mind"

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Erica Fisher

Erica is a reporter for Moose FM and energeticcity.ca in Fort St. John, B.C. She grew up in Victoria, B.C. and received her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec.

The Act was introduced at the end of April, and gives emergency workers the ability to obtain a court order requiring individuals to give a bodily fluid sample, if not given voluntarily. Fire Chief Fred Burrows says this would be used in a situation where an emergency worker is exposed to the bodily fluids of someone with a high-risk lifestyle, like a drug user, who may decline to give a sample voluntarily, based on their history.

"If you're dealing with people who are at high-risk, there's always a chance of us getting affected by their medical problems, so this gives us the ability to find out whether we should start special treatment for whatever they may already have contracted."

He says before this legislation was in place, it would be a "long, tough fight" to find out if that person had a communicable disease like Hepatitis or HIV. Without knowing what that person may have, the worker could go on a cocktail of medications almost immediately, simply as a precaution. Darryl Key, Fort St. John's Paramedic Chief, says that although cases like that are rare in rural locations like the Peace Region, it gives workers peace of mind.

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"It gives us a course of action so we can get some definitive answers, so that we can avoid having to put them on to the medications," he explains. "Before, you could be re-tested for up to over a year, and not having that peace of mind to take home to your wife, your children, your husband, so this legislation is a huge step forward for the emergency services."

The legislation itself has been controversial, due to privacy concerns, but both Burrows and Key say learning about someone's medical history means nothing more than protecting their employees.

"It's not there to be abused, we're not here to find out about people and their personal and medical history," maintains Chief Burrows. "It's only under certain situations with the proper background in regards to risk to find out if we need to carry forward."

"We do recognize that it is controversial, but when you do the risks versus benefits, I think the benefits outweigh the risks of this legislation," says Chief Key. "It's a huge step forward and I think pretty much all my membership would be supportive of it."

Pimm says his colleagues in government were all "100 per cent in support of this bill".

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