VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — A small number of Virginia Beach firefighters are being evaluated for possible exposure to COVID-19.
Virginia Beach Fire Department spokesman Art Kohn said that no members of the department had tested positive for the virus as of Tuesday, but some had been removed from duty until testing was concluded.
Kohn said that anyone being tested would have to be cleared before returning to duty. He added that all department shift were manned properly and there had been no reduction in services.
Kohn told 13News Now that the Virginia Beach Fire Department is following all the protocols from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). VBFD members are wearing the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). All of that is not a guarantee that someone won't contract the virus when responding to an emergency where there might be a COVID-19 patient.
Kohn wrote in an email:
Like all first-responders across the nation and the world, Virginia Beach Firefighters remain vigilant to protect our citizens as well as ourselves against the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Obviously, we cannot refuse calls for service, whether those calls pertain to fire or medical emergencies. In fact, we will continue to provide the high-level of service that our citizens, guests and business owners deserve and expect from the VBFD.
Virginia Professional Firefighters Union Vice President Kurt Detrick covers Hampton Roads. He said all departments in the area are following updated CDC guidelines, starting with dispatchers who screen for COVID-19 symptoms.
“We are looking for specific things that kind of set that call apart and set it aside,” Detrick said. “Put us on a different alert level basically, that we know when we get there, we have to take extra precaution.”
If a caller describes flu-like symptoms, he said dispatchers will make a note of that. They will also ask the caller if they traveled recently or have come in contact with anyone who tested positive for the virus. Dispatchers will alert firefighters and paramedics to wear their personal protective equipment (PPE) to the call.
“You might see them with the yellow gown on,” Detrick said. “Everybody is wearing the filter masks, eye protection, gloves, always.”
Detrick said ideally, they would wear PPE for every call. But many local cities are trying to make supplies last.
“We have to be prepared for this to go weeks, into months,” Detrick said. “Until the supplies can start really trickling back down to us on the street, we’ve got those screening methods in place.”