A Nanaimo firefighter is awaiting the outcome of a court-ordered blood sample that could be a landmark case for B.C.’s first responders.
The blood test was ordered under the B.C. Intervention Disclosure Act by a judge in Nanaimo provincial court Wednesday and resulted from an incident in early August when a firefighter was vomited on by a patient.
Under the act, a judge is able to order a blood sample from a person if there’s a chance disease could spread to someone offering emergency care, such as a first responder.
The blood will be tested for hepatitis B and C, as well as HIV.
“This is a landmark case in the province. B.C. Professional Firefighters [Association] fought for this legislation that was enacted in 2012. It helps protect firefighters, police officers, paramedics and any other peace officer,” said Karen Fry, Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief.
“It’s to protect them from potential blood-borne pathogens and to really provide them peace of mind and opportunities to start programs or treatments if they are exposed.”
Fry said normally when a first responder is contaminated with bodily fluids, a doctor at a hospital will discuss the reasons why the person who expelled the fluid should voluntarily provide a blood sample for the safety of those who could potentially contract a disease, but in this case the patient left the hospital prior to being treated.
“So that makes it very difficult to even track him down and to get his information and ask him will you go and get your blood tested,” Fry said.
The man was asked to provide the sample, but did not comply with the request, which forced the matter to court, which Fry said can be a lengthy process.
“And rightly so. They try their best to protect the rights of the individual, but in the end it’s the health and welfare of the exposed individual that we need to continue to protect,” she said.
Fry said the firefighter awaiting test results has 15 years’ service with the fire department and has responded to thousands of calls. He has remained on duty.
“The results, when they do come in, will go to our employee’s doctor … and then our employee will know whether he needs to start a treatment or if he’s good to go,” Fry said.
The sample will be tested for hepatitis and HIV.
The patient has one week from the day he is served with the court order to comply or risk being found in contempt of court. He was not present in court Wednesday and attempts are underway to find him to physically present him with the order.
“It’s my understanding that this is the first time that an order has been made under the emergency intervention disclosure act in British Columbia … I’m just personally happy that for [the firefighter’s] own health and safety and that this might help other first responders in the future,” said Sean Smith, council for the City of Nanaimo, with Victoria-based lawyer firm Stewart, MacDonald, Stuart.
Fry said the legal process is slow but will determine the effectiveness of the legislation, especially in light of the overdose crisis when the frequency of such incidents is likely to increase.
“I think we can then really evaluate whether the legislation works as it was intended to work or whether it needs to be amended,” Fry said.