By Virginia Wilkinson

Saskatoon’s Crestline Coach, part of a platform group of companies that is the second largest manufacturer of ambulances in North America, made a critical decision when COVID-19 hit in March 2020.

“We play an important role in health systems across both Canada and the U.S.  We knew our customers were going to be relying on our vehicles and our ability to technically support those vehicles through this crisis – so our first question was what do we need to do to remain open?” said Steve Hoffrogge, President, Crestline Coach.

 The company investigated and implemented practices required in the Government of Saskatchewan COVID-19 guidelines.

“Once that happened, our next focus was on winning the hearts and minds of our employees. They were watching businesses shut down right and left, so they needed to be sure that if they were coming to work, we had a plan to keep them safe,” said Hoffrogge.

Hoffrogge said Crestline implemented a stringent sanitization and self-assessment plan and a robust and ongoing communication process with employees, which provided at least twice weekly employee updates with the president between March and June.

The company implemented regulations so that only those who needed to be there were allowed into the facility. All third-party access to the facility was halted. Crestline introduced new cleaning practices and distributed cleaning supplies to employees throughout the facility.

Employees were regularly updated on provincial government health and safety protocols, while the concept of self-assessment was also firmly implemented.  

“We have been very disciplined and firm. If we feel any employee has any symptoms, we say ‘Don’t come in.’ It is all part of making this a very safe place for our employees,” said Hoffrogge.

A number of Crestline’s local suppliers pivoted and began producing cleaning supplies and PPE equipment. Crestline was able to secure a “truck load” of hand sanitizer from Lucky Bastard Distillery of Saskatoon, face shields from Sleek Signs out of Regina, washable face masks from Saskatoon Bag & Case (which normally supplies Crestline with webbing and seatbelts installed in ambulances), and disposable masks from MCK Equipment.

“It is all about making sure our employees feel safe coming here,” said Hoffrogge.

Early on the company announced a short-term lay off of approximately 20 people. However, before they missed their first pay cheque, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program was announced, and all impacted employees were called back and given their back wages. Hoffrogge is grateful that Crestline was able to keep all employees fully employed throughout the shut down.

“We were so fortunate that we were able to run at full production, so we could keep everybody fully employed,” he said. 

Because the company could continue to operate, executives and employees expressed a desire to provide support to the local community. In partnership with Medavie Health Services West, Crestline and its employees joined forces on a food collection program for the Saskatoon Food Bank. Together Medavie West and Crestline delivered more than 2,000 pounds of food including cash donations too.

The company’s efforts enabled them to keep its staff fully employed during the pandemic. In addition, Crestline vehicles built during the lockdown played a role in addressing pandemic defense. In fact, the platform group led by Demers Ambulances, which includes Crestline Coach, and American-based Braun Industries, delivered 19 new vehicles to the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) in May.

Crestline is now examining new ways of doing business, based on the province’s Re-open Saskatchewan Plan. It is considering the use of virtual meeting tools where it makes sense and reducing travel so that the company can continue to provide a safe working environment for employees as the province and the country re-opens.

“My main focus is on ensuring that we stay diligent around self assessment, on keeping each other safe, and on looking for the opportunities this situation provides because I think we will be dealing with this well into 2021,” he said.