MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As the coronavirus cases continue to rise in Memphis and across the country it also means more potential health risk for first responders.
A fire department spokesman confirmed Wednesday that 19 fire personnel had tested positive for COVID-19, and 112 fire personnel had been self-quarantined, although 84 of the 112 were expected back to work Thursday.
The head of the fire union said firefighters are doing all they can to stay safe.
“The pressure put on these people making the calls has increased dramatically. They are doing a heck of job,” said Thomas Malone, president of the Memphis Firefighters Association.
Malone said the coronavirus case numbers spiked because a probationary class coming through fire school had one member with a positive screen, leading to the entire class being quarantined.
Another challenge is that firefighters live and work in close quarters.
“One person can have a positive screen … and even if they’re asymptomatic, showing no symptoms, we’d still err on the side of caution and get all the people out and quarantined,” Malone said.
But fire personnel are told to practice social distancing and suit up wearing personal protection equipment or PPE.
“Everybody seems to be wearing their gear, doing the right thing, suiting up and using six-foot distancing while they talk with the patients,” Malone said.
Malone said the department of 1,700 is fully staffed, with fire personnel getting the support they need from the administration as they remain on the front lines to help others.
“Right now Memphis is in good shape,” he said. “It’s like anything else. The longer this goes, the more stuff we’re going to need, and that could be a problem.”
Malone said the union and fire department are in daily talks with the city and county COVID task force about new challenges that could be ahead and what to do better protect themselves.