'It’s been life-changing': Local firefighters alter routines to battle virus spread

Posted Monday, 25 May 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

In some professions, helping prevent the spread of the coronavirus means working from home or keeping a respectful and safe distance from coworkers at the office. But when your office might be a burning building, social distancing becomes more complicated. Firefighters in Las Vegas and Clark County, however, are doing everything they can to stay safe. Depending on the agency, they wear masks on calls and around the firehouse, undergo regular temperature checks and take steps to maintain social distancing when possible, such as staggering dinner times. Sanitation at firehouses is also a priority, officials said. Warren Whitney, deputy fire chief for the Clark County Fire Department, said firefighters are also undergoing coronavirus testing. “We want to be able to give the community at least a little bit of a sense of security,” Whitney said. “Some people are hesitant to call for help now because they don’t want someone to bring the sickness into their home, so we’re testing all of our firefighters, all of our personnel,” he said. Whitney said one firefighter has tested posted for coronavirus. He had worked at two stations, both of which were deep cleaned by a private company. Equipment used was also disinfected. “That guy obviously went home, we’re checking on him (and) he’s doing well,” Whitney said. “All the other crews were tested; no one has come up positive.”  Whitney said firefighters are checked for fever twice during their shifts. If anyone has a temperature over 100.4, they are sent home without losing any of their accrued sick leave. “We’re operating with an overabundance of caution, and we don’t want these guys to feel punished or anything,” he said. Las Vegas Fire & Rescue spokesperson Tim Szymanski said city firefighters are also getting regular temperature checks. Around the firehouse, Las Vegas firefighters wear masks and practice social distancing when possible, Senior Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Buchanan said. Some stations are staggering dinner times so not as many people are around the table at the same time, he said. “It’s been life-changing for firefighters,” Buchanan said. “Their job is already difficult, and so it’s made it that much more cumbersome.” It’s not possible, however, to completely social distance in emergency occupations like firefighting, Szymanski said. He said most houses have six firefighters at all times and that crews haven’t been reduced because of the pandemic. While fighting a fire, staying 6 feet apart isn’t practical, but firefighters have equipment such as self-contained breathing apparatuses to help keep them safe, he said. “Those are way more effective than the regular masks, because they’re breathing their own air,” Szymanski said. Of course, there’s another part of the job fire officials miss — interacting with residents. Whether it’s bringing the fire engines to schools or participating in fundraisers, Whitney says his firefighters love to be involved in the community. “They want to get back to normal. They love interacting with the public and now it’s kind of clear your call and get back,” he said.

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