Entire Mo. FD quarantined after FF tests positive for COVID-19
All 27 firefighters of the Lemay Fire Protection District, including the fire chief and deputy chiefs, are quarantined pending further test results
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
LEMAY, Mo. — Every firefighter in the Lemay Fire Protection District was under quarantine at home Thursday after a colleague tested positive for the coronavirus, a district official said.
The 911 calls that Lemay normally would handle were being rerouted to fire houses in Valley Park, Fenton, Affton and elsewhere. Crews are rotating the responsibility of filling in for Lemay, according to Jerry Schloss, chairman of the board of directors for the Lemay fire district.
Lemay has only one fire house, which is at 1201 Telegraph Road. After the firefighter tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, everyone was sent home to quarantine as a precaution because of possible exposure, Schloss said. One crew was tested Wednesday and should learn the results soon. The other two crews also will be tested, he said.
"We only had one firefighter test positive but that's all it takes," Schloss said.
The district has 28 employees. Twenty-seven of them are firefighters, including a chief and two deputy chiefs. The district also has an administrative assistant who is at home under quarantine.
Assuming the firefighters are cleared, the fire district "should be back at full strength the middle of next week," Schloss said.
Cleaners sanitized the fire house and all of the equipment in it. Valley Park firefighters brought a truck and crew to the Lemay fire house on Wednesday and ran a half dozen EMS calls, then turned the job over to the next district in rotation.
Back when the pandemic began, area departments had devised a rotation plan in order to fill in for others hit hard by the virus. This is the first time the districts in the southern part of the metro area have implemented the plan, Valley Park Fire Protection District Chief Jim Polk said.
Schloss said he doesn't know where the lone firefighter was exposed to the virus. He said the district has enough protective gear.
"We have everything we all need, and it was going smoothly, no problem with supplies," Schloss said. "But with the numbers (of cases) doing what they're doing, it's always a concern. We follow all safety procedures to try to minimize it."
Fire Chief Dan Bertelsmeier couldn't be reached for comment.
Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said in a briefing Wednesday that there is "so much virus circulating in the community right now." He said it is "concerning" that the virus is affecting health care workers and first responders.
The International Association of Fire Fighters has about 322,000 members, about 85 percent of firefighters in the United States and Canada. These are full-time firefighters. The association doesn't represent volunteer or part-time firefighters.
Based on self-reporting by about a third of its member fire departments, the association reports that 112 firefighters have been hospitalized for COVID-19, 10,500 have been quarantined and 2,537 have tested positive for the virus, said Doug Stern, a spokesman for the association.
Mark Woolbright is second district vice president for the International Association of Fire Fighters and represents Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. Woolbright said firefighters around the country are coming down with the coronavirus.
"Some areas in the country are being hit harder than others," he said.
Woolbright is a fire captain with the Pattonville Fire Protection District. In Pattonville, for example, three of its firefighters were off work this week because they've been in contact with someone who had the virus. They were awaiting their own test results. Pattonville is a medium-sized district for St. Louis County, with about 70 firefighters/paramedics.
Woolbright said it's rare for an entire fire department to be under quarantine.
Gov. Mike Parson in April announced an emergency rule that allows firefighters, police and other first responders to receive workers’ compensation if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 or are quarantined because of it. The rule creates the assumption that a first responder was exposed to the virus while on duty, Parson said.
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