Fire departments take extra precautions to limit coronavirus exposure for crews and patients

Updated: Apr. 29, 2020 at 11:13 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Thousands of first responders across the country have been exposed to the coronavirus, including some in the Lowcountry.

Six firefighters with Midway Fire Rescue were quarantined for 14 days after they were exposed to a patient who ultimately tested positive for COVID-19.

Fortunately, none of those first responders tested positive, but the two-week loss in manpower was significant for the smaller department.

Midway Fire Rescue covers Pawleys Island and other parts of Georgetown County.

Its fire crews have been wearing Tyvek suits over their gear and taking other precautions while responding to emergency calls for sick patients.

“We live in a small world…It’s very easy for someone, particularly in this incident, this event we are dealing with, you may not know you are exposed. And you get in a fire station, and it’s six or seven or eight men or women there and social distance…you can try to do that…but it’s like living at home,” Fire Marshal Mark Nugent said. “Then, on that same token, we don’t want them taking it home to their families.”

The International Association of Fire Fighters is working to create a database of exposures. Officials said the only way their members can protect their communities is if they have the proper personal protective equipment to prevent exposure. The group is asking its members to complete surveys to help them make sure resources are available to keep first responders safe.

According to the IAFF’s tracker, St. Johns Professional Firefighters Local 3883 reported two fire members had been exposed, but zero had been quarantined or tested.

Meanwhile, officials with the North Charleston Fire Department said they’ve had four exposed personnel, five quarantined, and one firefighter who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The firefighter has since recovered and has been cleared to return to work, according to Stephanie Julazadeh, the department’s deputy chief of professional standards.

Like many surrounding departments, North Charleston’s fire stations have been closed to visitors, citizens requesting smoke alarm installations in their homes are being screened for COVID-19 symptoms, and car seat safety checks are being done virtually.

Julazadeh also said firefighters are staging for non-critical EMS calls to reduce the amount of exposure to a patient, receiving information from dispatchers if a patent has had any coronavirus symptoms, and wearing facemasks, face shields, gowns and gloves to protect themselves from exposure.

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