Since more than half the calls firefighters respond to are medical calls, the International Association of Fire Fighters wants better protection during flu pandemics.

In the event of another pandemic, firefighters should be on the first tier of the vaccination priority list, said Jim Lee, assistant to the general president for Canadian operations with the IAFF.

“The vast majority of our calls are medical-related calls,” said Lee, a 30-year firefighter based in Ottawa. “We should be treated like health-care workers because of that.”

Lee said they were also concerned that in some areas, the protective masks offered to firefighters are not as effective as the P100 masks that firefighters should be using.

“They give us very, very good equipment to fight fires. Why don’t they give us the best possible protection when we’re dealing with medical calls?” said Lee.

Acting western chief Bob Foster hasn’t heard a lot of concern from Ottawa firefighters.

“In terms of what our job exposes us to, I imagine a cashier at Loblaws would have as much or even more exposure than we would,” he said. “We go on a lot of medical calls and we do come into very close contact with a lot of people, no question, but I haven’t heard of a lot of firefighters who are worried about it.”

Foster said the H1N1 vaccination clinics were set up at fire stations shortly after the first priority clinics opened around the city.