Butler County firefighter cases boost coronavirus precautions for first responders

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Middletown police taking extra precautions to keep safe when dealing with the public

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

For weeks, extra precautions have been in place to keep first responders safe from the coronavirus and to ensure one sick person did not infect vital staff.

But last week, law enforcement and fire departments became more aware after learning six West Chester Twp. firefighters from the same station tested positive for the virus.

MORE: Chief: West Chester fire department cases started with a single sick employee 

All six of the positive tests were from one crew at Fire Station 74 on Beckett Road, and those men are all quarantined at home, said Fire Chief Rick Prinz. One of the men reported he was feeling unwell after he returned home from a 24-hour shift on Saturday and called his supervisor. The township had him and the crew tested.

Middletown Fire Chief Paul Lolli said firefighters wear medical protective gear daily because of their duties, but “COVID-19 has added some extra concerns.”

Employee temperatures are taken before every shift, and they are screened for any symptoms. If they have a fever or symptoms, Lolli said they are told not to come to work.

Medic units are cleaned several times a day, and masks are being worn by all patients, not just firefighters. Anyone suspected of contact with coronavirus is quarantined for 14 days. Lolli said no one in his department has tested positive.

The Middletown firehouses do not have separate quarters for each firefighter, so they do their best for social distancing, Lolli said.

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“It is difficult to say away from each other, but they try to pay attention to their surroundings,” Lolli said. “But in reality, when the alarm sounds, they are all jumping on the rigs together.”

Hamilton Fire Chief Mark Mercer said the department has had less than a dozen employees exposed to someone with the virus, and they were taken off duty. Others showed signs and symptoms of being ill.

“If they seem sick, we want to have them tested,” Mercer said. “Every single one has tested negative.”

The chief said medics are screening all patients when they get to call, asking about any signs or symptoms

“If we go someplace for a sprained ankle, we are screening those patients for any signs or symptoms.” Mercer said.

The first person to have contact with the patient is mandated to wear an N-95 mask, goggles, gloves and a gown.

Middletown police officers are spending time sanitizing cruisers and themselves with wipes and hand sanitizer donated by several businesses.

Employees at the police department are also subject to temperature checks before each shift, and roll call is held in different rooms for different shifts so that those rooms can be sanitized and less people are in contact with each other.

“We are keeping social distancing the best we can because there are times we just can’t,” Middletown police Chief David Birk said.

A machine that sprays chemicals to kill the virus was also recently purchased for use on cruisers.

While the police lobby remains open, people entering must wear a mask or are provided with one. The lobby is marked off in six foot distances for people waiting to speak with officers.

Birk said one employee was sent home for a high temperature but did not test positive.

With hundreds of employees, daily assessment is key at the Butler County Sheriff’s Office. Everyone is checked for a temperature before starting work.

“I glove up and take my temperature every morning when I come in,” said Deputy Chief Anthony Dwyer.

There have been no BCSO employees test positive for coronavirus, he said.

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