NORTH SUMMIT COUNTY — While area safety forces say that so far their operations have not been impacted by personnel being infected by coronavirus, it is certainly something they think about.
"Everything’s going fine so far, but it’s early," said Macedonia Police Chief Jon Golden.
Early it may be, but not too early for the possibility to arise since the Stow Fire Department recently reported that one of its firefighters has been recovering since testing positive for COVID-19 on March 28.
Some area departments say they have not lost any personnel due to coronavirus. At least a couple, the Macedonia and Hudson fire departments, say they will not release any information in that regard.
"All shifts are appropriately staffed at this time," said Macedonia Fire Chief Brian Ripley.
Police and fire departments in North Summit County are looking at options for dealing with the potential that first responders in their ranks could get hit, even as they have implemented policies for reducing the chances.
Many departments say they are doing what they can to prevent an epidemic within ranks. Besides regularly checking employees’ temperatures, common practices include washing hands and using hand sanitizers and thoroughly cleaning facilities and vehicles on a regular basis. They are also trying to maintain social distancing with the public and even amongst their own personnel. A common practice that police departments have reported is taking as many reports as they can over the phone and police and fire departments say they try to keep their uniformed personnel separate from administrative staff.
Police officers and EMS personnel also use personal protective equipment as much as possible, though chronic shortages are a concern and various departments have put out appeals for donations.
But many departments are still thinking about contingencies in case an epidemic should sneak into their ranks. Golden and other area police chiefs say police departments in the area, including Macedonia, Northfield Village, Sagamore Hills, Twinsburg, Reminderville, Hudson, Boston Heights, Peninsula and Richfield have agreed to share personnel if necessary with other members of this group that are close by.
"Northern Summit has kind of been broken down into three areas - east, central and west - and area departments will share in their respective areas," said Golden.
Twinsburg Police Chief Chris Noga said this is just an extension of providing mutual aid under state law.
"None of our departments have requested assistance because of COVID-19 related illness," he said. "As chiefs, we want our individual communities to know that we have a long history of working together and this will allow us to continue to deliver policing services even in a worst case scenario."
Northfield Village Police Chief John Zolgus said his department is taking the added step of having officers in reserve because of budget cutbacks due to the economic downturn.
"We have a couple of officers out on furlough to stay healthy so they can come in healthy and replace any officers who may need to go out or help another community," he said.
Fire departments are also taking steps. Both Ripley and Twinsburg Fire Chief Tim Morgan say they are endeavoring to keep firefighters assigned to each station, three for Macedonia and two for Twinsburg, from coming into contact with firefighters assigned to other stations as much as possible in order to limit any outbreaks. They are taking other steps as well.
"We do have a plan in place if we experience a shortage of available employees," said Ripley. "I’m not at liberty to release the plan but be rest assured that emergency calls will be handled appropriately."
With only one station, keeping firefighters separated is limited to social distancing for the Northfield Village Fire Department, said Fire Chief Jason Buss, but he said the department has developed a strategy.
The department has increased daily staffing by one and is using medics normally assigned to the closed Northfield Park to staff an ambulance.
"Should we need to upstaff due to a member illness, we plan on utilizing overtime for fulltime firefighters and reaching out to our part time firefighters who are not working fulltime at the moment to come in and back fill those positions" said Buss. "We have several members that have been furloughed from their fulltime job, not in the fire service, and could meet this need. In a worst case scenario, there have been talks on a regional level to make a list of firefighters available who would be willing to go and work at other fire stations to meet staffing shortages."
Morgan said that while trying to keep personnel at its two stations separate from each other, the department is also using a part of Station 2 as a decontamination station for the entire department.
"So if we have contact with either a confirmed COVID patient or a highly suspected COVID patient, we make sure our impacted crew comes back through Station 2 and gets disinfected and cleaned up and taken care of there, including a change of clothes," he said.
Morgan said the department is also looking at what to do if any personnel or family members need a place besides home to go into quarantine.
"We’re looking at a couple of different options and we are contemplating potential use of currently closed city buildings," said Morgan, adding that local hotels and motels and even campers on city property is a possibility.
Morgan said the department is certainly considering options like mutual aid for dealing with an outbreak, but the unpredictability of the situation is making it difficult to plan.
"We’ve had discussions and at this time, we haven’t drilled into those options very far because really it all depends on where the first domino falls and how quickly they topple from there," he said. "Just the nature of the beast. It’s very unlikely that if we have one case, it will be just one case."
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at email@example.com