As two more firefighters were released from quarantine over the weekend, South King Fire and Rescue is stepping up precautionary measures to limit exposure to COVID-19.
There are currently no firefighters in quarantine as of Monday, March 23, said SKFR Community Affairs Officer Lt. Andrew Lowen, who added the outbreak is a “constantly evolving” situation.
Since late February, 12 firefighters in total have been quarantined for possible exposure to the virus, all of who completed the 14-day monitoring period without showing any signs or symptoms of COVID-19.
The first two firefighters to be quarantined were released on March 8 after possibly being exposed to the virus when responding to a call for service in late February.
In most cases, Lowen said, firefighters are unknowingly exposed to the virus on scene during the call, or are notified up to 11 days after the original emergency incident when the COVID-19 test results of a patient they previously assisted come back positive.
When members are in quarantine, Chief of Safety Gordon Goodsell personally connects and follows up daily with each firefighter in the quarantine process.
South King members now have a heightened awareness of possible virus exposure, Lowen said, and the department has now expanded the criteria to use personal protective equipment (PPE) on all medical calls.
In addition to PPE, firefighters limit possible exposure when responding to a medical emergency upon arrival by having one individual make initial contact with the patient and quickly assessing if more personnel are needed on scene.
If community members do see first responders wearing PPE when responding to a call, they should not assume it is a COVID-19 situation, Lowen said.
“If it doesn’t seem right, we gown up,” he said. “Experience teaches us to increase our situational awareness and our responses are based on that [in addition to protocol].”
These procedural updates meet the safety needs of both firefighters and patients care while also conserving resources, Lowen noted. The department’s emergency planning and logistic support has positioned the department to meet the extra demands for PPE and if needed, SKFR will request additional PPE resources from state and federal agencies.
As of Friday (March 20) across King County, approximately 178 EMS workers have been quarantined, shared SKFR Chief Vic Pennington during a virtual town hall meeting hosted by Mayor Jim Ferrell. Currently 56 remain in quarantine, and 122 have returned to work, Pennington said.
Out of an abundance of caution, SKFR has canceled all public activities and station visits. Employees are also required to conduct health screenings before and during their shifts, Pennington said. Aside from the command staff, a modified work schedule has been introduced to allow some administration employees to work from home.
“If any of our members have signs or symptoms of illness when they report, they don’t come to work,” Pennington said. “… This will assist in maintaining a healthy workforce [so] we can provide service to our citizens.”
Pennington urged the community to follow the Public Health guidelines of hand washing, social distancing and staying home.
“You can make a difference in your destiny; this is our destiny,” he said. “You can make a difference that will result in better outcomes for all of us.”