Fire departments make changes to keep firefighters safe from coronavirus


CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Fire departments in Illinois are committed to protecting their communities. But during this pandemic, they are putting an even bigger focus on protecting themselves.

Many of you have made major changes to the way you do your job, but firefighters cannot. There are some minor changes they have made that have an important role.

Firefighters know what they are signing up for. They are called to run to emergencies when everyone else is told to run away. That is still the case now. Paxton Fire Chief Denny Kingren said they are just treading more carefully. “We talked about all the precautions we should take and yes it is a little abnormal, over and above what we normally do, but we’re taking everything into consideration with it.” But the health of his own firefighters is at the forefront of his mind.

Smaller departments like Paxton might not be seeing as many operational changes, but the coronavirus might have an even bigger impact because they say they really cannot afford to lose many of their volunteers. “Naturally if we lost members, it would be a hardship on the remaining men,” said Kingren. That is the same deal for a medium-sized department like Rantoul.

That is why 911 dispatchers are now asking, in addition to “what’s the address of your emergency”…”Do you or anyone in your household have any symptoms of COVID-19?”

The way first responders first make contact with calls has also changed. “It’ll be an officer that will make first contact with the individual that called to figure out what resources do we have,” said Rantoul Fire Captain Chad Smith. “and the firefighters [are] staying on apparatus until we actually need those resources.” If it is a major emergency, like a fire or crash, all that goes out the window and you will see firefighters responding the way they always do. After all, their job is to keep you safe from disasters.

But just know, their new job is to keep themselves, and you, safe from this illness as much as it is in their power to. “The masks, the safety glasses, keeping out 6-foot-difference, having as much interaction in the outdoor area rather than in an individual’s home keeps us safer, and keeps the next individual we may come in contact with of not spreading the virus,” said Smith.

In addition, Urbana Fire, a larger department, is also making some changes. They have locked down the fire stations, restricted all visitors and asked all firefighters to come into work in their regular clothes and change when they get there. Otherwise, they are doing all the same things all of you are doing: washing hands and canceling large business or training gatherings.

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