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Archived - Pandemic or otherwise, there’s no putting the brakes on the City of Ottawa’s fleet

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May 7, 2020
Feature Stories

Eight weeks into the state of emergency over COVID-19, the message from politicians and public health officials is the same. Stay at home. Don’t visit mom. Care enough about perfect strangers to resist the temptation to go to the cottage.

While the pandemic is asking a lot of us, there’s never been a better time to get to know the essential services staff we protect by staying home. Whether they are visible to the public or not, their work touches our lives every day. Take the mechanics who maintain the City of Ottawa’s fleet of vehicles for example.

The work that maintenance supervisor Jason Scholar and his colleagues do is always essential, but never more so than when we’re in a state of emergency. Jason oversees crews of highly specialized mechanics who service the vehicles our firefighters and paramedics rely on to perform life-saving work.

A bearded man in a button-down shirt, jeans and boots and a man with a goatee wearing a blue uniform with reflective paneling stand in front of an ambulance in a garage.
Work continues for the highly specialized technicians like Jon McCorkell (right) who maintain the emergency vehicles we rely on to respond to an emergency at a moment’s notice. With COVID-19 in Ottawa, maintenance supervisor Jason Scholar (left) says it has never been more important for the teams who support the City’s first responders and essential services to stay healthy.

Jason, can you give me a sense of the role you and your colleagues play in supporting the City’s essential services?

I’ll give you the most dramatic example. Imagine the worst happens. Your partner has chest pains, or your kid takes a serious fall. You’re not just relying on firefighters and paramedics to be healthy and able to respond at a moment’s notice. You’re also relying on their vehicles to be up to the task. In an emergency scenario, a mechanical failure in a fire truck, ambulance or police vehicle is simply not an option.

These are some pretty high stakes you’re talking about.

No question. They may work behind the scenes, but our mechanics and tradespeople are front-line in the fight against COVID-19, and we as a city rely on them to maintain everything from waste collection trucks to the Ottawa Police Service’s boats, cruisers and motorcycles.

If a mechanic who works on a firetruck for example get sick, that’s a big deal. Their skills are highly specialized. They service a lot more than just engines and brakes and the parts of the firetruck that keep it roadworthy. They’re also doing maintenance on the ladders, the sirens, the hydraulics – every piece of equipment and machinery our firefighters rely on when they respond to a call.

The same idea applies for ambulances and police vehicles and waste collection trucks. They all require mechanics with incredibly specialized skills to keep them operational. These guys are irreplaceable.

We keep our distance from one another as much as we can, and we’ve staggered work hours so there are fewer people in the shop at once, but we’re also counting on the public to do their part.

How can the public help keep you guys safe?

With COVID-19, we hear daily reminders of our responsibility to the front-line workers who keep our essential services running. Stay at home, wash your hands. It can get tedious, I get it, but it’s still so important. Staying home isn’t an option for these guys, so I hope those who can stay home will keep it up, for the sake of essential workers who go to work each day to keep our city afloat during this pandemic.

What’s the hardest part of the work right now?

If you combine Police, By-law, Fire and Paramedics vehicles, there’s about 25 different vehicles coming into the shop for scheduled maintenance every day. To keep ourselves safe, we have to approach every single one assuming it has carried a passenger that’s positive for COVID-19. That means cleaning and disinfecting every vehicle. It slows down the work, but we do what we have to do.


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