Six North County Fire Protection District firefighters are healthy and back on the job after they were infected with COVID-19 earlier this year. However, they returned to a department that changed its operation.
“Since COVID-19, a lot has changed,” said Captain John Choi.
North County Fire’s Public Information Officer said they changed how they operate inside and outside of the station before social distancing and other measures were mandated by the state so that no one else would be infected.
“We didn’t want to infect anyone within the station and also our public that we respond to,” said Captain Choi, a 13-year veteran with the District.
He said firefighters immediately began distancing themselves within North County fire stations. They took shifts in kitchens, living rooms, and during workouts.
Choi said they also change out of their uniforms when they enter the fire station.
“That way we keep all the germs both in the station, in the station and out of the station, out of the station,” he said.
Firefighters also wear face masks every time they leave the station.
But the social distancing efforts also means firefighters can't traditionally train for wildfires.
“We have to be really close to each other, attaching couplings, rolling out hose, pulling out hose out of the hose pack,” Choi said pointing up a hill behind Fire Station 4 in Fallbrook. “So, we’ve gotten creative by doing pack tests within the station.”
Now, firefighters take turns wearing a heavy hose pack on their back while walking three miles on a treadmill.
To help, Captain Choi said people should prepare for wildfires, too. That includes evacuating with social distancing in mind.
“Make a plan right now,” he said. “You need to be contacting your relatives and your friends and having plans in place for where you’re going to evacuate when we ask you to evacuate.”
He said the Red Cross has evacuation shelters that usually hold 200 people.
“With social distancing, that’s going to be about 50 people in each shelter,” warned Choi.
He said people should also take the time now while they’re at home to clear 100 feet of defensible space around their homes.