Chief: 25% of Hackensack Fire Department quarantining because of COVID-19
Many New Jersey fire departments are facing an even greater obstacle than fighting fires – the COVID-19 pandemic.
A handful of Hackensack firefighters are off the job currently because of the virus. Fire Chief Thomas Freeman tells News 12 New Jersey that eight people based at the headquarters have tested positive for the virus, while 22 others are quarantining for possible exposure – a quarter of the department’s force.
Freeman says that the department answers about 7,000 calls per year, and that the pandemic is presenting its own set of challenges.
“We are going on medical calls – COVID calls – and the guys have the possibility of being exposed a little more than the average person,” Freeman says.
Freeman says that out of the eight people who have the virus, seven are firefighters and one is a civilian dispatcher. They are currently isolating.
The chief says that the department has been diligent about safety protocols, including disinfecting the station and vehicles and temperatures checks. Masks are also mandatory. But the crews live and work together for 24 hours at a time and the job doesn’t always allow for face coverings or social distancing.
“Our line of work, it’s difficult to social distance 24/7. As much as keep face coverings on, there’s sometimes you can’t. When they get into the apparatus to response to calls, at some point we have to get off face coverings and get into firefighting gear,” Freeman says.
The chief says that despite what adds up to 25% of the team being out due to the virus, the department can and will keep the community safe.
“Guys working overtime, taking extra shifts. Their families probably aren’t so appreciative of it. But that’s the commitment these guys have. They know these trucks have to get manned and we are here to do a job and protect the citizens of the city,” Freeman says.
The department has a minimum of 18 firefighters per shift and at 75%, it can meet that requirement. Freeman also says that the department has a good mutual agreement with neighboring fire departments.
The first wave of quarantined firefighters will complete their 14 days and be back on Thursday.