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Fire chiefs review trends during pandemic

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published June 19, 2020


MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — Paramedics dedicate themselves to saving lives, but in times of pandemic, they must also take extra care to protect their own.

Hazel Park Fire Chief Richard Story said his department has implemented temperature checks at the beginning of every shift, and any employee who shows possible signs of COVID-19 goes home. The firefighter-paramedics keep the shoes they wear on runs in the engine bay, and they wear separate shoes when walking around the station.

In responding to possible COVID cases, firefighter-paramedics also wear full gowns, goggles, masks and gloves. They also thoroughly clean all equipment, vehicles and facilities with an automotive paint sprayer that was repurposed to apply disinfectant — and of course, they are extra diligent about washing their hands, Story said.

The Hazel Park Public Schools also helped by visiting the station periodically with an electrostatic cleaning machine that atomizes the disinfectant product to clean every nook and cranny. The Hazel Park Fire Department now has a similar item on backorder.

The same precautions are being taken at the Madison Heights Fire Department, according to Madison Heights Fire Chief Gregory Lelito. The department has been careful to follow county, state and federal guidelines, as well as screening 911 callers for signs of COVID-19, wearing personal protective equipment, limiting the number of firefighters who make contact with patients, banning all outside visitors to the station and cleaning all materials there. They are also required to wear face masks when outside of the station.

From about mid-March to the end of April, the number of low-priority EMS calls in Madison Heights was down from the previous month’s totals, but the amount of COVID-19 patients requiring emergency transport increased, as did the number of people who worried they might have COVID-19. Beginning in May, EMS call volume began to return to normal, and with it, the number of COVID-19 patients appears to have decreased.

The Madison Heights Fire Department also saw a 45% drop in fire incidents during the shutdown and an 8% drop in calls overall. Lelito increased his department’s staffing daily numbers to ensure four firefighters were on call 24 hours a day at Fire Station No. 2.

Story observed similar trends in Hazel Park.

“Our run volume hasn’t increased much, and the citizens are calling for legitimate reasons. Obviously more flu-symptom calls, which thankfully in most cases were not related to COVID-19,” Story said. “We have been extremely fortunate with fire calls and fire-related runs. Those calls have been down. The roads being almost empty also helped with our motor vehicle accident runs. Those were way down. They are starting to pick up now that the state is opening up.”

The Hazel Park Fire Department normally operates with a six-person maximum and five-person minimum for staffing. Anticipating a large influx of COVID-19 cases, Story had his department max out the staffing each shift during the shutdown. More recently, a reduction in run volume and the governor’s easing of restrictions has led Story to return staffing numbers to normal.

But the coronavirus is still out there, and at press time, it remained to be seen whether there would be a second wave of cases in Michigan as the state fully reopened. Lelito advised people to clearly communicate their situation when calling for help so that first responders can stay safe.

“I want to assure the community that, during the pandemic, the MHFD will continue to provide the highest quality of emergency services to its residents,” Lelito said.

Story commended the cooperation of residents.

“The public has been great in these times,” Story said. “Please continue to cooperate with your Fire and Police departments. We are here to help you — we are the problem solvers when emergencies arise. Use good common sense and practice all of the new things that are now a part of our daily lives — hand washing, masks, distancing. I know that times are scary right now, but if we all work together, we will put this behind us. … If we are compassionate and cooperate with each other, life will be so much better.”