As heat wave approaches B.C., 911 dispatchers warn of spike in calls, wait times

B.C.’s largest 911 communications network is warning of a massive uptick in emergency calls only hours before the expected arrival of another heat wave.

E-Comm 911 handles 99 per cent of all emergency calls in the province. Calls typically spike in the summer, but this year, gang-related shootings, the ongoing opioid crisis, an early wildfire season and last month’s record-breaking heat wave have all led to an increase in emergency call volumes.

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In a written statement, Oliver Grüter-Andrew, president and CEO of E-Comm, described the current strain on emergency services, including 911, as “extraordinary.”

E-Comm said staffing shortages and a rise in non-emergency calls to dispatchers has only made the situation worse, with 36 per cent of police non-emergency calls tying up vital resources.

As COVID-19 restrictions loosen and with more high temperatures expected to arrive today, E-Comm says it anticipates “continued challenges,” including long wait times on non-emergency calls.

Environment Canada has issued seven heat warnings and 14 special weather statements as a strengthening ridge of high pressure is expected to drive temperatures above 30 C across Vancouver Island, Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

In several regions of B.C.’s southern Interior, temperatures could bring daytime highs into the high 30s. The hottest weather is expected today through Sunday, with nighttime temperatures offering little relief.

Such conditions can quickly turn deadly.

Data from the B.C. Coroners Service show 815 deaths were reported during June’s heat dome — 617 more than to the five-year average over the same seven-day period.

None of the deaths have been confirmed as heat-related and investigators are still working to establish how and why so many more people died.

As temperatures rise again, E-Comm is calling on residents to reserve emergency dispatchers for emergencies.

Keeping cool and healthy in the heat

HealthLink B.C. offers these tips:

• Drink plenty of fluids. Drink extra water even before you feel thirsty and if you are active on a hot day. Ask your health-care provider about how much water you should drink on hot days if you are on water pills or limiting your fluid intake.

• Keep cool. Stay indoors in air-conditioned buildings or take a cool bath or shower. At temperatures above 30 C, fans alone may not be able to prevent heat-related illness. Sunscreen will protect against the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, but not from the heat.

• Plan activity before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., when the sun’s UV radiation is the weakest.

• Avoid tiring work or exercise in hot, humid environments. If you must work or exercise, drink two to four glasses of non-alcoholic fluids each hour. Rest breaks are important and should be taken in the shade.

• Avoid sunburn. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on exposed skin and an SPF 30 lip balm, and reapply often.

• Wear lightweight, light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing and a wide brimmed hat, or use an umbrella for shade.

• Never leave children alone in a parked car. Temperatures can rise to 52 C within 20 minutes inside a vehicle when the outside temperature is 34 C. Leaving the car windows slightly open will not keep the inside of the vehicle at a safe temperature.

• Regularly check older adults, children and others for signs of heat-related illness, and make sure they are keeping cool and drinking plenty of fluids. Check on those who are unable to leave their homes and people with emotional or mental-health challenges whose judgment may be impaired.

• Heat also affects pets. Never leave a pet in a parked car. Limit pets’ exercise, and be sure to provide them with plenty of water and shade.

Home treatment for mild heat exhaustion may include:

• moving to a cooler environment;

• drinking plenty of cool, non-alcoholic fluids;

• resting; and

• taking a cool shower or bath.

If symptoms are not mild, last longer than one hour, change, worsen or cause concern, contact a health-care provider.

— With a file from the Times Colonist

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