Missoula's fire chief is offering assurances as the fire department deals with its own COVID-19 outbreak, saying firefighters are taking every precaution to keep themselves, and the public, safe.
Fire departments have been following rigorous procedures ever since the pandemic started this spring. But for Missoula Fire, things took a turn for the worse last week with the department now coping with five positive cases of COVID-19.
The coronavirus outbreak means the department is adjusting to deal with the loss of firefighters but also keeping the public safe as they handle dozens of calls per day.
"You know, one of our first priorities is to make sure we're providing good, safe workplace for our firefighters and then making sure that in the station, as well as responding to calls, that we're wearing our PPE, both on duty and off duty for all of our firefighters," said Missoula Fire Chief Jeff Brandt.
Firefighters will look different if they come to your assistance, using new protective coveralls, gloves, and full-face coverings.
"Not just a one-time throw for PPE, but we've leaned into some decent coveralls that meet the CDC guidelines and our N-95 masks and then being able to get some sustainability and reliability out of the PPE that we're wearing and responding to," said Brandt.
Not only will firefighters look different, but along with their colleagues on the Missoula Police Department and Missoula Emergency Services, new protocols are being followed when they get to the scene of a medical call or other emergencies.
"Just understand that you're not going to be surrounded by four or five different people," said Brandt. "That we are strategically looking at and interviewing each of our calls for service and those people that are calling for help."
Brandt says it will also help to communicate clearly with emergency crews if they have questions on scene.
"You know we work very closely with 9-1-1," said Brandt. "They're a great bunch of people down there. And they ask appropriate questions when they receive the call and they get the calls to us so we can go out and do work. But yeah, if you've got signs and symptoms, or you've not been feeling great just let us know that. And we'll be asking those questions too."
Brandt says the department has been able to work around the COVID cases and quarantined personnel so far, with some firefighters pulling extra shifts to keep full coverage in place.