As coronavirus cases rise across the county, local volunteer fire departments are not immune. Both Chester and Quincy fire departments recently have reported staff or volunteers who have tested positive and shared how they have responded.
The Chester Public Utility District provides fire and ambulance services for a 960-square mile swath of the Lake Almanor Basin. Chief Brian Layne said the there is a six-person fire/ambulance staff supported by six volunteers. The department has had two positive cases recently with one individual returning to work this week, and the other soon thereafter.
When asked about their symptoms, Layne said they were flu-like. There have been times during the pandemic when the ambulance has been unavailable for 24 hours, but then the ambulance from Peninsula Fire is ready to respond.
The Chester crew members were among the first to receive the Pfizer vaccine through Seneca Healthcare District. Layne and those who were available received the vaccine Dec. 22. During an interview this morning, Dec. 23, Layne said he had a little soreness at the injection site, but experienced no other effects.
Chief Robbie Cassou reported that four members of the Quincy Volunteer Fire Department tested positive for coronavirus and have quarantined. Plumas County Public Health has been contacting identified persons who may have been in contact with them and all members of the department were tested. He anticipates responders being able to receive the vaccine as soon as Jan. 1.
“This outbreak of the virus will not have an impact on our ability to respond to medical, fire or hazmat calls, nor will it impact our response time for these calls,” Cassou said.
In a statement to his volunteer firefighters, support team and two employees, Cassou reminded them that, “… it is very important that we be diligent in protecting ourselves and our families, fellow firefighters and the public. This can be done through the proper use of supplied personal protective clothing including masks, gloves, eye protection, sanitizers and gowns (when necessary).” He went on to mention the other well-known preventative actions such as social distancing when possible, and frequent hand washing.
Other practices Cassou said that are in place for the fire department include thoroughly sanitizing the vehicles and equipment after each use. He said they are limiting the number of personnel transported in the department’s vehicles on a call to a maximum of three people spaced as far apart as possible, adding that they will take multiple vehicles if needed.
He also reemphasized to his team that no one should enter a structure on a medical call until the ambulance arrives, unless absolutely necessary. They should try to triage patients from the doorway and, if possible, have them come outside. If necessary and if practical, only one member of the department’s team should enter the structure. The directive also said to keep equipment outside, passing in only what is required in each case.