Burnaby RCMP warns over 25 sudden deaths may be linked to B.C. heat wave, as 911 calls break records

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      While health authorities and police have been urging people to regularly check in on vulnerable individuals during the B.C. heat wave, one local police detachment is reporting an emerging tragic reality in the Lower Mainland.  

      Burnaby RCMP stated today (June 29) that officers responded to over 25 sudden death calls within a 24-hour period since Monday (June 28).

      Although the deaths remain under investigation, Burnaby RCMP added that “heat is believed to be a contributing factor in the majority of the deaths” and “many of the deceased have been seniors”.

      A UBC study revealed that an average of 5,608 deaths each year from 1997 to 2006 in the U.S. could be attributed to heat.

      There's also been a major surge in calls to 911 during the heat wave.

      B.C.'s E-Comm 911 service reported today that it broke call volume records this past weekend, with almost 8,000 calls on June 26 and over 7,300 calls on June 27. E-Comm stated that this is a historic increase of approxomately 55 percent, compared to a normal weekend in June.

      “Between the heat wave, the province-wide restart, and a 9-1-1 operator staffing shortage, there simply aren’t enough of us to get to these calls as quickly as we need to,” CUPE 8911 (Emergency Communications Professionals of B.C.) president Donald Grant stated in a news release. “When you call 9-1-1, seconds count. Delays can lead to property damage, injuries, and even death.... We are working as hard as we can to get to your call, but we are stretched to the limit.”

      On June 25, Burnaby RCMP launched its Extreme Heat Response Plan, in which additional officers are conducting proactive patrols to help vulnerable and unhoused people access resources, and to provide information about three City of Burnaby cooling locations in underground parkades at:
      • Edmonds Community Centre (7433 Edmonds Street);
      • McGill Library (4595 Albert Street);
      • Bob Prittie Metrotown Library (6100 Willingdon Avenue).

      The City of Vancouver also launched misting stations and added additional water fountains last week, in addition to its air-conditioned community centres and public libraries.

      Meanwhile, Fraser Health stated on June 28 that there has been “a significant increase in the number of people seeking emergency care for heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and other heat-related concerns, particularly in the elderly and other vulnerable populations”.

      Fraser Health also added that not only is heat a concern but also poor air quality in the “central Fraser Valley and parts of Metro Vancouver…due to heat-related ground-level ozone, especially during the afternoon”. Consequently, Fraser Health recommends vulnerable individuals seek out air-conditioned spaces for both better air quality and temperatures.

      In addition, Fraser Health also advised that anyone taking medication, “particularly for mental illness”, should check with their doctor or pharmacist if the medication increases health risks during hot temperatures.

      Potential signs of heat-related illness include:

      • changes in behavior;
      • dizziness or fainting, nausea or vomiting;
      • headache;
      • fast breathing or heartbeat;
      • extreme thirst;
      • decreased urination.

      Severe signs of illness that require immediate medical care include:

      • high body temperature;
      • confusion;
      • hallucinations
      • lack of coordination;
      • seizures;
      • loss of consciousness.

      Among its tips for cooling off, Fraser Health stated that fans aren’t effective alone at the current temperatures—it is recommending “applying cool water mist or wet towels prior to sitting in front of a fan”.

      Despite concerns about COVID-19, Fraser Health is recommending that anyone who is experiencing difficulty breathing while wearing a mask should remove it, “whether indoors or outside”.  

      Meanwhile, several COVID-19 immunization and testing clinics in various regional health authorities have had to be relocated due to high temperatures that could affect staff, clients, and vaccine supplies, including in Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health, and Island Health.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.