Firefighter and Former Fire Chief
Freeport Fire Department
COVID-19 was unprecedented. There was no playbook, no one to ask, “How did you handle this before?”
When the pandemic hit, we all had to keep our commitment to the community, trying to provide services while combating the unknown. We had to shut down the firehouses except for responding to calls.
We were stalking Depot and Walmart supply trailers to find enough cleaning supplies to keep the trucks and firehouses sanitized. Nick Laborne in our EMS department coordinated with the Town of Hempstead and other fire departments to maintain medical supplies and PPE.
During the worst months, we were getting 5 to 6 COVID response calls a day. We had to talk to the callers from the truck or the sidewalk to assess the emergency, or send only one of our members in. We were performing battlefield emergency care in an urban setting.
After transporting someone to the hospital, we sanitized everything. I developed a spray gun that was retrofitted to fit one of our air packs, which sanitized much faster.
We did lose two of our members to COVID, and about 10% of us got COVID and recovered, but nobody contracted COVID at the firehouses or during responses. If a member got sick, we did contact tracing.
Nowadays, we follow CDC guidelines. We still sanitize daily. We have pushed our members to vaccinate. Fortunately, we don’t really get COVID emergency calls anymore. All other emergency calls fell to a low level during the pandemic, even fires, and we are still not as busy as prior to the pandemic.
It was truly a team effort. We got great support from the mayor and the village trustees, and no complaints from the community.
Freeport Fire Department
Under Chief Thomas Johnson, Freeport FD got into Advanced Life Support training. I became the EMS Coordinator in Dec. 2019 with responsibility to order supplies and handle state paperwork. Then COVID-19 hit, and we had to add EMS pandemic training. We got up to speed just in time.
In February, before we were sure what we’d need for COVID, I decided to stock up on supplies for PPE and sanitizing. I also ordered 7,000 Tylenol tablets, many thermometers, and 40 pulse-ox devices. Before long, supplies on the East Coast ran short. I used to get up at 2 a.m., when all the computers for the supply companies reswept and new lists of supplies opened up, to order what we needed. CDC recommendations kept changing, so I continually revised our training protocols.
Our executive director, Ray Maguire, did legwork to help me to find supplies because I work full-time for ABC. The fire chiefs supported me, making sure that the firefighters wore masks, did temperature checks, and washed down the vehicles. The mayor would call and ask if we needed anything. It was really a team effort.
For COVID calls, I went into the homes to assess and treat patients. Chief Donnelly and Chief Sapiro went also. We wouldn’t know for days whether we’d gotten exposed to COVID because the tests weren’t developed yet.
These days, many firefighters are vaccinated, and we have at least 300 K95 masks on hand. Unfortunately, people are getting too laid back about COVID protocols, so I’m a little worried about the winter. But no one in our engine company was ever out sick, and no Freeport fire company ever shut down like in other districts.