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Heat wave help for communities stretching B.C. emergency resources

Restrict 9-1-1 calls to emergencies, public safety minister says
Temperatures in Victoria reached 40 degrees on Monday, with records broken all across the province this week. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. emergency response and public health teams have been stretched to the limit, and 9-1-1 calls have broken records along with extreme heat, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Wednesday.

“Police and emergency services have been redeploying officers and pleading for people to only call 9-1-1 during emergencies, as heat-related deaths have severely depleted front-line resources and severely delayed response times,” Farnworth said June 30.

B.C. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe reported Wednesday that at least 486 sudden and unexpected deaths have been reported to the agency since Friday, a 195 per cent increase in a typical five-day period.

“While it is too early to say with certainty how many of these deaths are heat related, it is believed likely that the significant increase in deaths reported is attributable to the extreme weather B.C. has experienced and continues to impact many parts of our province,” Lapointe said.

As with police and ambulance services facing record calls, the coroner’s service has also experience delays responding to reports of sudden deaths. Farnworth said B.C.’s Lower Mainland has been particularly affected, since many of its homes don’t have air conditioning.

Emergency Management B.C. has assisted health authorities responding to senior care homes dealing with the heat, and relocating COVID-19 vaccination clinics that couldn’t continue in temporary locations.

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Farnworth said the province will reimburse communities for extra costs related to the heat wave, such as opening libraries and community centres to accommodate people who could find no relief at home.

“This includes transportation to and from cooling centres in communities where no scheduled or reasonable public transportation exists, staff wages and overtime to open a civic facility that otherwise would not happen, and workers compensation coverage for emergency social service volunteers to support water for distribution within a facility,” Farnworth said.

Environment Canada reported Wednesday that while heat warnings have been lifted for Yukon and parts of northern B.C., conditions remain dangerously hot from Southern and Central B.C. east to Manitoba.


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