Six Hackensack firefighters who tested positive for COVID-19 were isolating and 21 others who were exposed to them were quarantining out of an “abundance of caution,” authorities said.
Of the six who tested positive in the past three days, “one had moderate symptoms, two had minor symptoms and the other three were asymptomatic,” Hackensack Fire Chief Thomas J. Freeman told Daily Voice on Wednesday.
Although having a quarter of the department’s firefighting force sidelined presents scheduling challenges, “we still have sufficient numbers to satisfy our minimum manning of 18 firefighters per shift,” the chief said.
“Our dispatch room is manned by civilian dispatchers, with two dispatchers assigned per shift,” Freeman noted. “We have two civilian dispatchers included in those 21 members being quarantined.
"We will have no problem manning our dispatch with the other six full-timers and the large pool of per diem dispatchers that we utilize.”
NOTE: Isolation separates those who've tested positive from those who haven't. Quarantining separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to see whether they become sick.
Freeman's department has been extremely diligent cleaning and disinfecting the firehouses while wearing masks and social distancing, the chief said.
“Two weeks ago, we added eight large tables in the kitchen area so that everyone can socially distance better at meal times,” he said.
“Back in the spring, we purchased 55-gallon drums of disinfectant, which is used by our firefighters to disinfect all vehicles and all rooms in the stations,” the chief added. “We have several hand-held spray guns and a large backpack-type blower which are used to disinfect on a regular schedule. All hard surfaces are manually disinfected.
“All members are directed to wear a face covering at all times in the stations unless they are eating, sleeping or in an office by themselves.
“Unfortunately, our line of work presents some challenges that aren’t typical in the private sector,” Freeman said. “Firefighting is a "team effort and requires us to work in close proximity to each other.
“We work 24-hour shifts, so our members are ‘living’ together for 24 hours. This includes several meals and sleeping along with the many fire and emergency calls we respond to.
“It is nearly impossible to socially distance in a piece of fire apparatus that has from three to six firefighters in it,” the chief said. “Once on the fire ground, it is again very difficult to social distance.
“At some point, a firefighter must take off the face covering, prepare is PPE for donning and get instructions, give progress reports and assist his fellow firefighters while not yet on air,” he noted.
All of Hackensack’s emergency responders and city officials have been extremely supportive of those who are quarantining, Freeman proudly said.
The fire unions “have been very helpful with providing assistance and recommendations to help HFD continue to provide the best service possible to our residents,” he added.
“I am proud and fortunate to work with such a great team,” the chief said.
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