Fire departments prepare for potential COVID-19 outbreaks

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CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Fire departments in central Illinois have created contingency plans in case firefighters are infected with coronavirus.

This week twelve Springfield firefighters contracted COVID-19, including Chief Allen Reyne. The outbreak within the department caused a total of 37 firefighters to isolate or quarantine. The outbreak was traced back to a house party. Reyne said, “Once you get two or three positives, now you have to look back through contact tracing, who worked with who, what calls they ran together. We’ve done that over the last few days. At one point, we were at 48. Pretty quickly, we got that number down to 37.” Despite the big setback the department is still running on a full staff. But with fewer firefighters available, they are racking up the overtime.

The Illinois Office of the State Fire Marshal shares daily stats on how COVID-19 has affected departments in Illinois. Champaign Fire Deputy Chief Tyler Funk said, “Since March 17th, there have been 2,039 firefighters that have been directly affected by this COVID-19 virus, and it effects 182 fire departments across the state. Those numbers include firefighters that have either been placed into quarantine or have tested positive.”

The pandemic has forced departments to prepare if exposure happens in their areas. In June, a Champaign firefighter had to isolate after testing positive for COVID-19. Twelve other firefighters self-quarantined as well. The department has made adjustments to adapt to the health and safety risks since the pandemic started. Funk said, “We’re doing symptom based checks in the morning before they enter the workplace. We’re obviously wearing masks and staying socially distant within the department.”

Smaller villages, like Tolono, have a volunteer department. They have also made changes to operations. Assistant Chief Chris Humer said, “Not as many responders will go inside of a house, for your average medical call, it may just be one or two.” With nineteen firefighters on their force, they can not afford a significant loss in staff. “We have contingency plans set up with mutual aid departments, such as Savoy. We’re in constant contact with their administrative team as well, consistently talking about staffing levels,” said Humer.

Both large and small fire departments have similar plans for coronavirus outbreaks. If they can’t make up for a loss in staff with their own firefighters, they have agreements with nearby departments for mutual aid.

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