Captain of Denmark Volunteer Fire and Rescue contracts COVID fighting fires in Canada

Campbell WilliamsonAlbany Advertiser
Denmark VFRS captain Lee Shelley.
Camera IconDenmark VFRS captain Lee Shelley. Credit: Laurie Benson/Albany Advertiser

The captain of Denmark Volunteer Fire and Rescue Service contracted COVID-19 after flying to Canada to join the fight against the bushfires ravaging the country.

In July, captain Lee Shelley answered an SOS from Canada, setting out on a two-month deployment to give his Canadian counterparts some hard-earned help.

“There was 55 from Australia and 17 from WA,” Mr Shelley said.

“We were there to assist the incident management team.

“The fires had already been going for three to four months so they needed a bit of a break, so we went there to take over.”

But after returning to base one evening and undergoing a rapid COVID-19 test, Mr Shelley was given some bad news.

“At the camp we had rapid testing and there were several that were positive,” he said.

“Then we went for a PCR test and that confirmed that I was positive.

“I was confident that I had been double-vaxxed and confident of the procedures and policies that had been put in place. I knew I’d be looked after well.

“It was just a wait and see what would happen.

“I didn’t have any symptoms whatsoever, nothing.

I put it down to being doubled-vaxxed, completely.”

Mr Shelley, now free of COVID-19, said he believed his light brush with the virus showed the benefits of vaccination. He has shared his story as the Department of Fire and Emergency Services has announced the introduction of a new infection prevention policy to protect personnel, volunteers and the community.

Under the new measures, staff members and volunteers who have not had at least one COVID-19 vaccination by December 1 will need to comply with control measures such as wearing masks on duty or undergoing regular testing. The measures have been endorsed by WA’s Chief Health Officer.

Only personnel who provide written advice from their registered medical practitioner or disability care provider might be exempt. Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm said COVID-19 posed a serious threat to the ability of staff and volunteers to maintain Statewide frontline service 24 hours a day.

“The situation on the east coast has made it clear that the Delta variant is a genuine threat to our ability to maintain that, despite the strength of our controlled borders,” Commissioner Klemm said.

“For that reason it is absolutely critical that emergency services staff and volunteers are fully vaccinated or taking extra precautions to reduce the possibility of infection and transmission.

“We urge all staff and emergency services volunteers to get vaccinated ahead of the bushfire and cyclone season. We cannot risk having a situation where we are unable to provide an emergency response to parts of the community when disaster strikes.

“Emergency services personnel frequently come into contact with some of the most vulnerable members of our community, including remote Aboriginal communities and the elderly.

“We will continue with consultation to ensure the right approach is taken to protect staff, volunteers and the community.”

Mr Shelley said he supported the new COVID vaccination policy.

“Having lived through it and been there, I would support people getting vaccinated,” he said.

“My experience getting the vaccine was positive.”

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