New Westminster’s first responders have attended an unprecedented number of “sudden death” calls during this week’s heat wave.
Sgt. Sanjay Kumar of the New Westminster Police Department said 150 to 200 sudden deaths have been reported in the Lower Mainland in recent days.
“From about 7 a.m. yesterday to 7 a.m. this morning, we had about 18 sudden death files,” he told the Record Wednesday morning.
Many of those sudden deaths are occurring in apartment buildings, Kumar said.
“It gets so hot in those buildings that these residents are just unable to regulate heat,” he said. “Fans do a little bit, but for those who don’t have fans it is going to be extreme to be staying in these conditions.”
The New Westminster Police Department is urging people to check in on their family, friends and neighbours to make sure they’re doing OK. Police are also reminding residents that city-sponsored cooling centres are available at Century House (620 Eighth St.) and the Queensborough Community Centre (920 Ewen Ave.) (For details, go to the city’s website at www.newwestcity.ca)
Kumar said police officers have also been out checking on homeless people in the community and advising them of the cooling centres. He said other agencies are also doing their part to help everyone get through the heat wave safely.
Kumar said first responders learn of the sudden deaths through calls from concerned family members and friends.
The volume of calls to the New Westminster Police Department’s non-emergency line and 911 has resulted in delays getting through to dispatchers.
“We totally appreciate that E-Comm is being flooded with calls right now so they are having delays on their end,” Kumar said. “Some people are getting busy signals,”
While people should continue to call 911 for emergencies, including concerns about the wellbeing of others, Kumar noted people can make online reports about matters such as parking or bylaw complaints, or anything that doesn’t require immediate attention. Online complaints can be made through www.nwpolice.org.
“While this (heat wave) is happening, we do want to encourage online reporting. We have a system through our website. It’s just another way to get a hold of us,” he said. “Obviously if it is an emergency please call 911.”
Kumar said the heat wave is taking its toll on police resources, as each sudden death call can take up to nine hours to complete from the time police get the call until the deceased person is transported to hospital.
“It takes a significant amount of time. These files are tying up our members at scenes for a while,” he said. “They all have investigations. We still have to ensure that heat was the cause of death here and that it wasn’t something else. With every sudden death comes an investigation. There are still the protocols that we have to follow to ensure that there is nothing suspicious, nothing is out of the ordinary and that this was a heat-related death, and then notifying the next of kin.”
While seniors are among those who have succumbed to the heat, Kumar couldn’t say if all of those who have died suddenly were elderly.
“It’s sad to see, especially as we are getting through the pandemic, that this has happened,” he said. “A lot of these seniors have survived the pandemic so it’s sad to see this heat wave affect them in such a way, especially when they have come so far. It’s sad for us. It’s hard for our members, and this goes with all the other first responders, that everyone is working had to get through this, and we will. It takes a toll on everyone, the entire community. We are hoping that we are actually on the mend and the temperatures get cooler.”
While the temperature has dropped from Monday’s recording-setting 42.3C, Kumar urges people to keep checking on loved ones who are older or vulnerable.
“You always want to be there for them. I still encourage that, absolutely,” he said. “The weather is going to hopefully ease off here, but you can continue to check on family and friends just to make sure they are OK and they are getting through this OK.”
During times of extreme heat, Kumar said the police department reminds people of the need to stay hydrated, to check on family and friends, to avoid the sun as much as possible, to refrain from doing strenuous exercise outdoors, to dress appropriately and avoid wearing too many layers of clothing, and to limit their pet’s outdoor activities as they can also become dehydrated.