BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping across New York State and is now affecting the Buffalo Fire Department.
Buffalo Professional Firefighters Local 282 sent out the following notice:
During a conference call with Buffalo Fire Commissioner William Renaldo and Buffalo Fire Medical Director Dr. Joseph Bart, it was confirmed that 16 firefighters have tested positive for Covid-19.
One firefighter was hospitalized and is scheduled to be released soon.
Another 40 showed signs of being infected and were sent home to self-quarantine for 7 days as part of a workforce monitoring program. If during the final 72 hours of the self-quarantine, the firefighter shows no symptoms they will be allowed to return to work with clearance from the Department of Health.
The fire commissioner emphasized that no fire houses are closed and there has been no impact on response. "We have 100% strength going to all calls," said Renaldo.
The city has hired crews to perform extra cleaning at all fire houses - especially ones where firefighters tested positive for covid-19.
Dr. Bart explained that firefighters are checked twice per day for symptoms of infection (at 8 a.m. and then again at 6 p.m.). Anyone who shows any indications is then placed on administrative leave as part of the department's "abundance of caution" approach to dealing with the crisis.
The department is also using "Protocol 36." Those are special procedures designed for use in pandemics.
Under the protocol, extra effort is made to determine if a 911 caller is really ill enough to warrant an emergency response. When crews arrive, an interview with the person is done from a safe distance of six (6) feet while the first responder wears the proper personal protective gear (such as N95 mask, gloves, or gown). The patient is encouraged to stay inside their residence.
If it is determined that an individual needs emergency assistance, they will be instructed to put on a mask.
Commissioner Renaldo and Dr. Bart said the public should not fear dealing with firefighters as all precautions are being taken to prevent the spread of covid-19 among fire crews and to the general public.
Those firefighters affected by the virus currently will be allowed to return to work after receiving clearance from the Erie County Department of Health.
Buffalo Professional Firefirefighters Local 282 president, Vincent Ventresca said the union's members are "ready, willing, and able" to respond to calls. A sentiment echoed by Commissioner Renaldo who said many have canceled time-off to be able to help.
Ventresca is also encouraging the public to "not overwhelm the 911 system" with unnecessary calls.