Firefighters and police officers in Everett are taking every call as if it could be an opportunity to be exposed to the COVID-19 virus, using extreme caution and protective measures as they prepare for the spike in cases this month.
Fire Chief Tony Carli said this week that three Everett firefighters have tested positive in recent weeks for the virus, with two still recovering and one getting ready to return to work. Several other firefighters who had been in contact with them have been quarantined as well in recent weeks – causing a lot of overtime shift hiring and some shortages in staffing.
“We’ve always been on the front lines and we’re used to that,” he said. “It’s what we signed up for…Having three test positive was a wake-up call for all of us, myself included, and it made us put the protections in place to make sure everyone is safe and that it doesn’t spread so fast.”
Chief Carli said they have been working with the Fire Union to put things in place to help protect the firefighters out working on the front lines. Firefighters are protecting themselves on every call with the proper gear, and they are social distancing properly in the station. They also have required firefighters to have their temperature taken in the morning and evening. If anyone has a fever, they are quickly taken out of the firehouse and checked out for further symptoms. Likewise, the stations are being sanitized and cleaned in-house frequently by those on duty.
Union President Craig Hardy said they are very worried about what the next few weeks hold, with some estimates by state organizations predicting that 30 to 60 percent of first responders could be out with COVID-19 in two weeks.
“One of our biggest concerns is we don’t want to contaminate a firehouse and we don’t want to go out and take it into the public,” he said. “We are on the front lines too and interacting with people who are exposed to the virus, and we don’t want to bring it home to our families too. It’s just a juggling act right now…Our members are doing great and taking precautions and being extra cautious and working closely with dispatch and the Public Health Department. We’re really treating every case and every call like it’s a COVID-19 response.”
Chief Carli said the department is doing well on its supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for going out on calls and interacting with the public, and Hardy said Chief Carli has done a good job in making sure the right protective equipment is in place.
“We are doing good with PPE and have a good amount on hand,” he said. “We’re disinfecting our stations on a nightly basis with in-house supplies. We’re hoping we can stave this off and especially over the next 10 days.”
On the Police Department front, Chief Steve Mazzie said they haven’t had any officers test positive for the COVID-19 virus, though a few did take precautions when they felt they had symptoms.
“Considering what’s going on, I think we’re doing okay,” said the chief. “Obviously, we’re all concerned about what’s going on and trying to do our best to make sure we’re still capable of providing public safety services and staying healthy and safe too. Fortunately, calls for service have diminished greatly and we our manpower levels are good and our workforce is healthy now. As this pandemic moves along, we’re trying to be prepared if we do have personnel who are infected or being quarantined…We’ve had a small number that tested and a few quarantine, but there have been no positive tests.”
Right now, along with traditional responses, they have been assisting the COVID-19 response efforts at the public schools, and the food distribution sites. Some officers even voluntarily handed out food items to those driving in Everett Square and were in need late last month.
Also, over the last few weeks, police have been monitoring the parks and trying to disperse those who are congregating in large groups or playing team sports like basketball. So far, most everyone has been cooperative and police have not had to do a great deal of dispersing as the social distancing message gets out.
Chief Mazzie said officers are practicing social distancing in the stations, and there are no more cruisers with partners on patrol. Instead, single officers have fixed posts. There are not many arrests at the moment, and most incidents they are trying to resolve on site or with a court summons.
He said he is seeing more people out with masks and gloves, even just for casual walks.
He also said the Police and Fire Departments are asking people to come out to their front porches or thresholds if they call for services, as public safety officers are trying to limit going into homes. “If we have to go into a home to resolve and issue, we will certainly do that,” he said. “The message I keep telling everyone is that we will get through this.”