New heat wave: B.C. unveils plan for protecting communities, says 'personal precautions' also needed

The B.C. government has unveiled its plans for protecting vulnerable communities during the province's latest heat wave, but said residents should take "personal precautions" as well.

Rising temperatures have prompted heat warnings in 19 regions of B.C., including Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, and officials said they have taken a number of steps to brace for potentially dangerous conditions.

But Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth also urged the public to monitor their local weather, stay hydrated, and to check in on one another, particularly those who live alone.

"Be sure to use the supports available and to take extra care of any vulnerable people and family, friends and pets this weekend," Farnworth said during a news conference Friday.

The government faced sharp criticism for its response to the last heat wave that struck in late June, and which contributed to an estimated 580 deaths.

One major issue was long ambulance wait times that sometimes dragged for hours, something Health Minister Adrian Dix said officials are working hard to correct this time around.

"The B.C. Ambulance Service is ready to serve you. The new chief ambulance officer is taking steps to ensure people who call for help get help, and get help quickly," Dix said.

In rural areas, on-call shifts are being activated full-time over the weekend. The BCAS is also pre-scheduling overtime, allowing paramedics to pick their times and partners in advance.

Paramedics themselves are being taken care of with supplies of water and Gatorade, Dix added, and are being allowed to wear clothing that is summer-appropriate.

Hospitals are also bracing for a potential influx of heat-related patients.

"Staff are being redeployed to emergency rooms to meet demand and steps are in place to keep people in hospitals cool and safe," Dix said. "In long-term care, residents and their families will see staff taking proactive steps to keep everyone hydrated and cool."

To prevent heat-related illnesses, the provincial government is working with health authorities, local governments and First Nations to co-ordinate their weather responses, and will be reimbursing communities for the opening of cooling centres where residents without access to air conditioning can find refuge from the heat.

The province will also help provide transportation to and from cooling centres that aren't reasonably accessible by public transportation, and pay for staff and overtime costs for the use of civic facilities that wouldn't otherwise be open.

The Emergency Info B.C. website has a list of cooling centres and other information to help people through the heat wave.