Ten Town of Normal firefighters have returned to work following two weeks under quarantine, while five others remain sidelined as they recover from COVID-19.
Fire Chief Mick Humer said it appears one firefighter who contracted the coronavirus had traveled out of state. He said all five who tested positive showed symptoms, but it took time for those symptoms to develop. He said they are all in various stages of recovery.
“We had people who had two or three negative tests and then on day 11 they were positive,” Humer recalled. “That 14-day period is there for a reason.”
Humer said since the outbreak, all firefighters have been tested twice; all came back negative.
The chief said the department requires masks and social distancing at each of the three fire stations, but he said staff is far less likely to spread the coronavirus while on emergency calls because they are all equipped with personal protective equipment. Because of that, he said the department didn’t consider it necessary to notify other emergency response agencies.
“There’s really not a concern to transfer (COVID-19) on a call, or a police officer geting it from one of the paramedics because both the police officer and the firefighters and paramedics are wearing N-95 masks on those calls.,” Humer said.
Another unique challenge for firefighters, who work in 24-hour shifts, in limiting the spread of infection is sleeping arrangements. Humer said the fire stations have extra beds and all are partitioned, so social distancing isn't a problem.
Humer said firefighters and emergency medical technicians are used to taking precautions against communicable diseases, but he knows the extra attention the coronavius requires can take its toll, adding more stress to an already stressful job.
“The last thing somebody wants to do is bring coronavirus home to their family or friends. That’s an added stress. Then you don’t want to be the one that brings it back to the firehouse because it affects so many people,” Humer said.
He acknowledged the difficulty of scheduling work shifts with so many unable to work, adding those quarantined were mostly limited to one shift and the department has retained full staffing for each shift during the outbreak.
The fire department has reopened its administrative offices to the public, but public tours remain off limits.
The Bloomington Fire Department had placed 23 of its firefighters under quarantine after potential contacts with someone who may have been infected with COVID-19. None of those firefighters tested positive for the virus.
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