County fire departments enact additional safety measures
Gov. Tony Evers issued a “Safer At Home” order mandating the closure of all non-essential businesses, events and gatherings this week in an effort to protect Wisconsin’s residents from the COVID-19 outbreak.
But while the order will protect many, others considered essential must remain on the front lines to keep everyone else safe.
That’s the case for the Sparta Fire Protection District and Tomah Fire Department volunteer firefighters who will remain on call in the event of an emergency.
Sparta Fire Chief Mike Arnold and Tomah Fire Chief Tim Adler said this week that their departments have implemented safety measures to protect volunteer firefighters.
“The executive fire board met and drew up a rough draft. We made some changes and they will be implemented for the safety of our people and their families,” offered Arnold.
Arnold said the department has gloves, sanitizer and N95 masks that firefighters will use on a call.
“The biggest thing for us is to keep our distance from each other. The station is only open to firefighters, and we can’t congregate there,” he offered.
“As for answering calls, it will be business as usual. If we have a car accident, we have to be careful when coming in contact with a victim,” continued Arnold. “We have gloves, face shields and the N95 masks approved by the department of health that have the right filtering capacity.”
He said the fire department has put in a request with the Monroe County Emergency Management Department for additional N95 masks, gowns and gloves.
“When we return from a call, we have to sanitize everything. We have to sanitize all of the equipment – anything we come in contact with. The steering wheel, arm rests, we have to wipe them down,” said Arnold. “And, obviously, any gear that needs to be sanitized also.”
He said firefighters will also practice “social distancing” from each other when possible.
“There’s the six-foot rule – the same applies to us,” offered Arnold. “At the executive committee meeting the other night, we all had to be six feet from each other.”
He also ordered firefighters to use discretion as to whether or not they should respond to a call.
“If you’re ill or don’t feel good, don’t respond to the call. Stay home,” he concluded.
The measures put in place in Sparta mirror those enacted across the county in Tomah.
“I met with the officers last week and we put in a handful of protocols in place,” offered Adler, who said he’s been in contact with officials at area clinics, hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities where the county’s most vulnerable population resides.
“One measure in place is the two-man in two-man out,” offered Adler, referring to his department’s procedure when responding to those type of facilities. “We’ll send two guys in to find out what’s going on. We’ll still have more responders, but only two will go in first.”
Adler said his volunteers are protected by their full-turnout gear, but firefighters will implement additional measures, including N95 masks, and gloves.
“We’re well-protected – we’re not taking any shortcuts,” he offered.
Like Sparta, Adler said his department will also take precautions when returning from a call by cleaning gear, and disinfecting equipment.
“We’ll keep the stations clean. We’re kind of on lockdown. We’ve eliminated all meetings,” he added. “We’re doing our part to help eliminate the spread. This is hard to absorb for all of us.”
Adler said his department has also requested more supplies like N95 masks and gloves from Monroe County Emergency Management.
“We all have orders in,” he said.
I addition, his department will work with the county’s 911 dispatch center to get as much information as possible when responding to a call.
“Our team leaders will go to a door trying to keep safe distances,” concluded Adler.