Fighting fires and COVID-19: How local department adjusted to pandemic

Local News

ALTOONA, Pa. (WTAJ) — Firefighters face many struggles when it comes to their jobs, and it only grows more concerning during a pandemic.

When firefighters are working inside a burning building, social distancing isn’t in the forefront of their minds.

Altoona Fire Chief Tim Hileman said the challenge comes when his crew needs to take a break.

“When they come out, they have to cool down, and breathing through a cloth mask really isn’t the best thing, so we’re encouraged our guys when they come out to stay six feet apart from each other and don’t hang around in groups,” he said.

Another big change is their quick response service, which treats patients ons cene before an ambulance arrives, is not responding to possible COVID-19 patients.

The supplemental medical care that we give in this case is not really what the patients need. They need to get to a hospital where they can get advanced care,” Hileman said.

Instead, QRS will respond only to trauma and cardiac arrest, so the department’s man-power can stay strong in case of a fire emergency.

“The fire department’s main focus is fire fighting and rescue. The EMS side of it is a supplement to what AMED does, so we took the risk to be able to take that supplemental care away to protect the force for when we have to fight a fire,” Hileman said.

Before every shift, each person has to fill out a wellness questionnaire, and the station is sanitized from top to bottom. Other steps firefighters are taking include changing their clothes and shoes before leaving.

The chief said they want to protect their families and loved ones, who may be at higher risk if they’re exposed to the virus.

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