Firefighters told not to use CPAP machines during pandemic

Firefighters at a fire at 234 Brock St. in Windsor, October 29, 2015. (Photo by Adelle Loiselle)

Firefighters who suffer from sleep apnea across Ontario have been told not to use their CPAP machines for fear they may contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

That includes firefighters with Windsor Fire and Rescue Services. The Windsor Professional Firefighters Association confirmed to BlackburnNews.com its members were told to leave those machines at home.

The concern is that the machines, called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, can aerosolize the virus when the patient exhales. Anyone who is in the room with the person using the device is at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

The machines treat sleep apnea linked to other health problems, including stroke and heart attack. Symptoms of sleep apnea include not only loud snoring but also sleepiness during the day, which can be problematic for first responders like firefighters.

(A photo of a C-PAP machine courtesy health.harvard.edu)

(A photo of a C-PAP machine courtesy health.harvard.edu)

Local denturist Dr. Pat Strong told BlackburnNews.com he started getting emails last week from firefighters concerned without their CPAP machines, they would not be able to perform as well on the job, so he set to work providing an alternative.

Saying it is just the right thing to do, Strong and Oventus Medical are offering firefighters in Windsor, London, Sarnia and Toronto oral appliances to treat their sleep apnea free of charge. Already, Strong has fitted ten local firefighters with the appliance and predicts more, too, will come forward.

“I actually had one firefighter from Windsor call me, really worried about what he was going to do because he was ordered to leave his CPAP machine at home, and he can’t sleep without it,” said Strong. “I am working on getting ahold of the head of the union, and then the next stop is Toronto, and then we’re looking at London.”

Strong has eight clinics across the province, and four of them are in the Greater Toronto Area.

“This is my way of saying thank you to them,” he explained. “They have a job to do. This what they were trained to do, but they weren’t trained to do it in these conditions. They’re being put in harm’s way every day because of it, and if I can help in a little way, this is what I’m going to do.”

As for those who are not frontline workers, but think they may have COVID-19, Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Wajid Ahmed, had some advice.

“You can try to use a mask when you are providing care, and you’re in long-term care or those kinds of facilities,” he said. “But at a general population level, I don’t think this is an issue. Someone who is COVID positive, they should be in self-isolation. They shouldn’t be in a room with anyone else. Period.”