Drastic times call for drastic measures.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, fire departments leaders have faced difficult decisions about how to adjust day-to-day operations in order to both protect their members while continuing to serve their communities. Some of the decisions involve limiting training activities for social distancing, closing station doors to the public and even conducting informal health evaluations of members upon arrival at the station.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shares guidelines for preventing spread of the pandemic, mostly geared toward the general public, it is still up to the individual chief and company officers to determine what steps to implement at their departments.
We ask several fire service leaders from the FireRescue1/Fire Chief Editorial Advisory Board, as well as FireRescue1/Fire Chief columnists, what measures they are following to ensure they don’t take COVID-19 home after their shifts or even bring COVID-19 to the station. Consider if these best practices could be implemented at your department in order to help minimize transmission of COVID-19 among your members and their families.
Jason Caughey, Fire Chief, Laramie County (Wyoming) Fire District #2
We are a combination department that consists of volunteers, resident college students and full-time staffing. With this unique staffing model, we have three distinctly different challenges.
- Our volunteers fill scheduled shifts. We have asked them to limit the number of volunteers per shift to two, and we are offering them the ability to stay in our station full-time (self-quarantine). By doing this, we hope to control any exposures.
- For our resident college students, we have asked them to quarantine in the stations to limit their exposure and to keep them from carrying the virus unknowingly out of the station. We have also closed all of our facilities to the public.
- For our career staff, we have assigned take home vehicles and they are only responding to accidents and fires. Our daily staffing consists of two engine companies and a command officer. The full-time staff will fill roles as needed in our staffing model.
All of our training has been moved to Zoom training online, except shift training for the crews on duty.
We have implemented new response plans for medicals, which include PPE and limiting number of responders that enter the occupancy. As you know, we tend to overwhelm incident with staffing, especially medical calls; we surround a patient with 3-6 people. We have now limited this to one paramedic and one firefighter to assess and treat the patient the rest of the crew stays outside. Our goal again is to limit exposure.
We have also purchased bulk food for our stations to prevent outages. We are utilizing online ordering and commercial food suppliers to stock our stations with the essentials.
All of the preventive actions are geared toward limited exposure and cross-contamination, which would devastate our ability to serve the public. Chances are we will have staffing directly affected, so we need to limit that exposure to maintain our level of service.
Read more from Chief Caughey: COVID-19 staffing impacts: How first responders can continue to serve
Ben Thompson, Lieutenant, Birmingham, Alabama
My wife is a nurse, and we discussed the probability of either of us bringing COVID-19 home. As much as we'd like to look for our employers to protect us, we both realize that our best defense against brining this virus home is personal responsibility. Our departments can write a new standard operating guideline (SOG) every day or issue new PPE, but if we do not do everything in our power to follow them and protect ourselves, then what does it matter?
The decisions we make on the job in regards to our own personal safety have always had the potential to effect those we love the most. If there is one good thing to come of all of this, it will perhaps be that we now see that there is a direct correlation. Our jobs will never be free of risks, but we owe it to our families to do our part in minimizing those we can.
Robert Rielage, former Ohio Fire Marshal
In addition to the proper use of our EMS PPE, firefighters need to heed the instructions of CDC on handwashing, decontamination of equipment, and wiping down the surfaces in the living, sleeping and meeting areas of the station. Some additional guidance:
- Uniforms and bed linens must be laundered at minimum after every shift, preferably at the station.
- Contact with outside visitors or even family members should be discouraged or prohibited at the station.
- Direct patient contact should be limited to the minimal number of personnel needed to handle the medical emergency.
- If a firefighter feels sick, he or she should not continue with their shift or report for duty, but instead notify their supervisor immediately that they are not medically fit and need to take time off following department policies.
Pedro Cáceres, Battalion Chief, Wayne Township (Ind.) Fire Department
The Wayne Township Fire Department has implemented several operational and administrative changes. Some of the operational changes:
- All personnel are screened at the beginning of shift (or reporting time) for fever and other signs and symptoms associated with COVID-19.
- General cleaning and thorough disinfecting is conducted twice a day in all stations and apparatus and as needed after each run.
- Uniforms are not allowed to be worn home.
- Full shift trainings are postponed; company-level trainings within the firehouse are allowed.
- Unnecessary travel outside of the firehouse has been restricted.
- Dispatch protocols have been updated to screen calls for COVID-19 and the information relayed to responding crews.
- Update PPE protocols and plan for long-term availability the needed supplies.
- EDO and safety officer are responsible for restocking safety equipment to EMS and fire apparatus.
- Exposure protocols have been updated to ensure personnel receive the best care possible as soon as possible if needed.
Editor's note: What measures are you following to ensure you don’t take COVID-19 home after your shifts or even bring COVID-19 to the station? Share in the Comments or email email@example.com.
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