MONTREAL -- In addition to major staffing shortages in Quebec's health-care network, many police, firefighters and paramedics are also off the job with COVID-19, with emergency services seeing their worst labour gap since the pandemic began.

Paramedic Kevin Morson said that at a time when ambulance demand is high, roughly 15 per cent of paramedics are in COVID-19 isolation in addition to other leaves.

The situation is affecting service for low-priority calls.

"There are hospital transfers that are delayed up to a day, which increases pressure on the system, not freeing up beds for hospitals so they can have more beds for COVID patients or other patients," said Morson.

High-priority calls such as heart attacks and strokes are still being responded to as promptly as they were before the pandemic, but paramedics like Moson say they're anxious about the future.

Paramedics are asking the public not to lie about their COVID-19 status but to reveal if they have the virus ahead of time.

"We won't leave you stranded," said Urgence-Sante spokesperson Stephane Smith. "We just need to know so we can take extra precautions to protect our teams."


About 150 firefighters are off because of COVID-19, with others being made to work overtime.

"We’ve had some days when we’re unable to staff all of our vehicles," said Montreal Firefighters' Association president Chris Ross.

"In all of the history of the fire department, we’ve never seen the employer use that clause in the collective agreement that allows for mandatory overtime, so it’s definitely unprecedented in that sense."

He said the forced overtime means his colleagues are working 48 hours consecutively at times, and that it may be affecting the service they provide.

"It might not change the arrival time for that first truck, but it will change the arrival time for that third, fourth, fifth, sixth fire truck," said Ross.

The Montreal police department (SPVM) has also been hit.

A Montreal city spokesperson would not give the exact number of absent employees, citing safety concerns, but said that measures are in place to ensure service to the public is not affected.