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Freeport Task Force, first responders at the forefront of the pandemic

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As the COVID-19 virus pandemic continues into April, Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy and members of the village’s Coronavirus Task Force have worked closely together to ensure that the village’s police and fire departments continue to run efficiently until the pandemic ends.

As of Thursday, there were more than 10,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Nassau County. According to the county Department of Health, there were 133 cases in Freeport on Tuesday.

While three members of the Police Department and one member of the Fire Department have tested positive for the virus, village officials said that none of the cases were serious, and that those affected were recovering and following proper quarantine protocol.

“Our first responders are doing a great job on the front lines of all this,” Kennedy said. “They’re putting their health and their families’ health at risk to help others in need.”

Freeport Police Chief Ray Horton, who serves on the task force, said the current situation reminds him of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when the Police Department worked with other departments to get the village up and running again.

Although the Police Department has seen a drop in the volume of calls, Horton said, officers are patrolling the village, especially where businesses and places of worship are still operating. The department is also assisting paramedics who are tending to and transporting the sick. In order to protect themselves, officers are wearing masks, goggles, gloves and other protective clothing, and keeping track of their equipment from day to day in case they start running low on anything.

While some officers have had to self-quarantine since the pandemic began, Horton said that all who are no longer ill have been cleared to go back to work. “We’re doing our best to keep our officers’ health in mind,” he said. “With the support from the mayor and the task force . . . as well as people staying in their homes, we should be able to get through this.”

Freeport Fire Chief Thomas Johnson agreed, and urged residents to take social distancing seriously, something the Fire Department has had to embrace to protect firefighters and residents alike. In keeping with federal and state protocols, the Fire Department is cleaning and sanitizing firehouses at least once a day. Only five firefighters are allowed to be at a firehouse at any given time, and senior members, who are more susceptible to the virus, have been put on temporary leave, Johnson explained.

Whenever firefighters are deployed, they wear masks, gloves and face shields, and only one of them is allowed to approach the property owner when they arrive. That firefighter speaks to the property owner from the sidewalk whenever possible.

After every run, firefighters sterilize and disinfect their equipment.

“We’re trying to get the job done efficiently and with as little exposure as possible,” Johnson said. “I really am in awe of how our volunteers are handling this situation.”

He also emphasized that in spite of the pandemic, the volunteers would not hesitate in emergencies. “We will not let this affect how we act,” Johnson said. “We’re not afraid to go out there. People are relying on us in what could be the worst moments of their lives.”

Kennedy said that the police and fire departments receive updates on residences where people have tested positive, but he urged residents to make first responders aware if anyone in the household is sick if they call in.

Kennedy added that the village’s electric and water departments were also taking precautions to assure that villagers have those essential services. Both departments have been split in half and separated to avoid close contact, and shifts and lunchrooms are being rotated as well. Kennedy said that the measures were necessary to minimize absences should any employee contract the virus.

Above all, Kennedy and other village officials urged residents to stay home and practice social distancing to help bring the pandemic to an end. Kennedy said he knew that isolation is difficult: He self-quarantined early last month after he came in contact with someone who tested positive.

“This is not a joke,” he said. “This is a serious matter. I know it’s a difficult situation to get accustomed to, but we need to follow the rules and regulations set in place.”

“Things won’t go back to normal unless we start seeing a decrease in positive cases,” Johnson said. “Please stay home. The finish line could keep getting pushed back if we don’t follow these guidelines.”