Lowcountry fire departments see climbing COVID-19 cases

Updated: Jul. 10, 2020 at 2:37 PM EDT
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NORTH CHARLESTON S.C. (WCSC) - Some fire departments in the Lowcountry are reporting an increase in new COVID-19 cases while firefighters continue efforts to slow the spread while on the job.

The largest increase comes from the Charleston Fire Department, reporting 40 new employee cases of COVID-19 over the last month, bringing the department's total to 41 cases.

A breakdown of cases in other departments include:

  • North Charleston Fire Department - 8 total, 7 in the last month
  • Summerville Fire and Rescue - 4 total, 1 in the last month
  • Goose Creek Fire Department - 3 total, 2 in the last month
  • Mount Pleasant Fire Department - 3 total within the last month
  • St. Johns Fire Department - 3 total within the last month
  • Goose Creek Rural Fire Department - No reported cases
  • Monks Corner Fire Department - No reported Cases
  • Walterboro Fire Department - No reported cases

Captain Dean Hatchell, medical program training coordinator with the North Charleston Fire Department, said long shifts and close contact at stations provide an increased challenge in keeping firefighters safe.

“Our shifts are 24 hours, we’re together for 24 hours and then we’re off for 48 hours. So in the stations, we’re cleaning a lot more,” Hatchell said. “Some of our stations have separate sleeping quarters and some of them do not so there’s a lot of unique challenges in the fire service.”

Mount Pleasant Fire Chief Mike Mixon also said the department is requiring more cleaning in stations and taking a pause on indoor training.

"We do live in a communal environment just by its's nature. So at shift changes our crews are required to stay away from the incoming shift," Mixon said.

Both Hatchell and Mixon say their departments have changed the way they respond to less emergent health calls to minimize contact with people who could spread the virus.

“If we’ve got three people in the truck instead of all three people going into the house, we send one person in to basically get an assessment on the patient and start triaging,” Hatchell said. “Then, if they need additional help, they call for additional help.”

Hatchell said he’s urging all first responders to be cautious both on and off the clock to help keep agencies running effectively. So far, he counts the NCFD as lucky.

“We’ve been fairly lucky with the amount of people we’ve had off, it really has not negatively impacted our mission and our ability to respond to calls,” Hatchell said.

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