The Washington Fire Department building is currently planned to remain closed to the public until at least Aug. 1 in order to ensure the safety of the firefighters during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have masks available and if the organization (during fire department responses) is going to require masks we will wear them,” Washington Fire Department Chief Tim Downing said this week. “We have been working this entire time and before they made a requirement for businesses, we weren’t wearing them except on calls. Masks are in very short supply, therefore we don’t want to use our good N95 masks unless there is the potential for someone to be injured or ill. We are working through the county to get our masks clean and disinfected, but it’s nothing we have had a chance to use yet, because we haven’t used our good masks. The Fayette County EMA Director (Melissa Havens) is willing to take our masks down to the drop-off point and to pick them up if we need them to be cleaned.”
Downing also said that he has not made it a requirement that firefighters wear masks when they enter homes, but has made sure to continue suggesting they wear masks and has helped to make sure they have masks available to use.
“When they are in homes I would like it if they did wear a mask, but I made that an individual choice,” Downing said. “Since they do live here and this is a home for them. This isn’t like a normal office building where they come in for eight hours or so and then go home. These guys are in here for a 24-hour stretch when they came in, and requiring someone to wear a mask for 24 hours is asking a lot of anybody. I do ask that when they go shopping or go into the homes, anytime they would come into contact with the public, to wear a mask. It isn’t something I am making a demand about, but I do suggest facial coverings.”
Downing discussed fire run numbers and finances since the beginning of the pandemic. He said until May, the department was down around 20 percent in calls compared to last year, but since the state has started opening businesses back up they have returned to normal.
“We prepared for the worst and expected to have calls, so we prepared by ensuring that the firefighters were available,” Downing said. “For a couple months no one was allowed to take vacation time while this is going on. Fortunately, we did not get the rush we expected so the numbers went down, but since we opened back up we are back to our normal May runs. For us it is still too early to say what the financial impact will be, simply because we as a department have stopped spending for anything other than operational costs. For instance, we do a lot of training we pay for, so the guys can continue to learn and practice but they are not must-have items. We have also worked hard to watch spending around the station so we aren’t throwing money away. We always try to be conscientious with the city’s money and it’s no different now.”
Finally, as the July 4 “Fire In The Sky” fireworks display was recently canceled, Downing reminded the community that it is illegal to use fireworks in the state of Ohio, but he knows people around the county will use them.
“Obviously people are going to do that, they are going to use fireworks,” Downing said. “I ask that they don’t, but if they are not going to listen to my request to not use them, that they at least heed my warning that they are very cautious with fireworks. They are harmful, they can hurt or kill and we have seen many accidents over the years with fireworks. People can lose hands, fingers or worse — especially small children who are younger and don’t know the dangers — so parents take care of your children and don’t let them use fireworks. Just be very cautious and give yourself plenty of room. Make sure you are away from structures and dry fields that could burn. Basically, just follow the rules and don’t use fireworks, think about what could possibly go wrong, because if you don’t think about it happening I can almost guarantee it will.”
Reach Martin Graham on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy.