While residents stay at home and businesses lock their doors for an indeterminate time period to prevent the spread of COVID-19, The Woodlands Fire Department is taking measures of its own to ensure the safety of its first responders and of the people it serves.
Fire Chief Palmer Buck, who began his role with the department Dec. 2, 2019, said he has added three medical response units to the department and changed some of its response guidelines for entering homes and managing patients.
“We limit the number of people within the 6-foot hot zone,” Buck said “We’re trying to change a culture. ... [Usually,] we all want to rush right up to the person.”
Buck said 13 staff members have had to go through quarantine because of potential exposure on calls; eight of those 13 have completed the quarantine period as of this week. A total of 170 people work for the department, including dispatchers.
Although call volume has stayed about the same since news of the outbreak began to spread, Buck said the department has seen increases in reports of respiratory illness.
“When they call 911, ... if they are having symptoms, they are being told to meet responders at the door, and they are being handed a surgical mask to limit potential for exposing,” Buck said.
Patients are treated outside to reduce the possibility of exposure within the house, he said.
The department has also changed its decontamination process. Rather than just removing their gloves and washing off, responders now thoroughly decontaminate their gear; they must now take showers and wash their clothing after a call. Fire trucks are also wiped down on the inside and cleaned thoroughly after callsr, he said.
With so many people staying home in recent weeks, Buck said there has not been a major increase in home fire calls, but the possibility remains that an increase will occur as larger numbers of people are spending more time in their houses.
“We haven’t seen anything an uptick that we can point a finger at. ... More people in the home increases the chance for all sorts of issues, and certainly, as people continue to be bored, they come up with different ways to amuse themselves, and we hope they will choose to do that safely,” he said.