Sterling Heights Fire Department crews deal with omicron COVID challenges

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published January 26, 2022

 Probationary firefighter/paramedic Jacob Stichhaller wears the COVID-19 personal protective equipment that is used during a call, including N95 masks, gloves and eye protection.

Probationary firefighter/paramedic Jacob Stichhaller wears the COVID-19 personal protective equipment that is used during a call, including N95 masks, gloves and eye protection.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 When responding to a COVID-19 call, only one paramedic will enter the building with a kit that contains a thermometer, a pulse oximeter and a mask for the patient.

When responding to a COVID-19 call, only one paramedic will enter the building with a kit that contains a thermometer, a pulse oximeter and a mask for the patient.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

STERLING HEIGHTS — The impact of COVID-19’s omicron variant on the Sterling Heights Fire Department hasn’t been asymptomatic, but officials say they have taken steps to meet the challenge. 

In a Jan. 10 Facebook post, the Sterling Heights Fire Department said it, too, was seeing firefighters falling ill to COVID-19 amid the general wave in the community. But the department said staff members are taking precautions to keep 911 callers safe, such as masking up and deep-cleaning equipment after each call. It added that firefighters will continue to be professional and dedicated in offering the best service possible.

“Rest assured that, while we are experiencing staffing shortages due to COVID, your firefighters are working extra shifts to make sure we are still able to respond to your emergency 24/7,” the Facebook post said.

SHFD Assistant Fire Chief Ed Miller said the recent rise of omicron has affected the department’s number of patient transport runs and that “it has increased our workload.” 

He said November had 109 patient transports for those believed to have COVID-like symptoms, and he added that December also coincidentally had 109 patient transports. 

But in January, as of Jan. 18, the department had already seen 94 such cases, he said. 

Miller said the Fire Department has been lucky not to experience what has happened to some paramedics in omicron hotspots on the East Coast. 

“Some departments are waiting a long time to do a patient care,” he said. “Our transfer times at the hospitals have remained relatively stable. The ERs we transport to have been able to handle the surge we have seen without delaying our paramedics any longer than normal.”

Miller said COVID-19 cleaning requires a little more of a workload after delivering a patient to the hospital. 

“Any time we transport a COVID patient, it just takes longer as a whole, because we are using cleaning techniques afterward to reduce cross contamination,” he said. “We’re using the proper PPE. We are protecting our employees.”

“The omicron variant tends to be more infectious, more contagious,” Miller continued. “We’re doing everything we can to reduce that. We’re treating every patient as a worst-case scenario. We’re wearing the right equipment.”

The department added that residents who need the Fire Department’s assistance can make things easier by wearing masks when in contact and by reserving 911 for emergencies.

On Facebook, the Fire Department is reminding drivers of Michigan Compiled Law 257.653, which requires drivers to veer to the right and stop if possible when an emergency vehicle emitting flashing lights comes their way. The department urges motorists to use turn signals while doing so, to make no attempt to speed up to make a green light, and to never follow the emergency vehicle through a red light. 

Find out more about the Sterling Heights Fire Department by visiting www.sterling-heights.net or by calling (586) 446-2950.