Firefighters photo

Matt Hamilton/Daily Citizen-News

Dalton Fire Department Firefighter Michael Sams, left, and Lt. Dan Hudson use a disinfectant spray to clean the regulator for their self-contained breathing apparatuses on Thursday at Fire Station 2.

To keep us well, they first have to keep themselves well.

While fighting fires is obviously the primary function of the Dalton Fire Department, the Whitfield County Fire Department and the Murray County Fire Department, their firefighters are often the first on the scene when residents call 911 for a medical emergency.

Dalton Fire Chief Todd Pangle said medical calls account for 65% to 75% of the calls answered by his department each month. Whitfield County Fire Chief Edward O'Brien and Murray County Fire Chief Dewayne Bain said a similar percentage of those department's calls are for medical emergencies.

Those departments adopted a number of practices in early March to keep the new coronavirus (COVID-19) from spreading among firefighters.

“We've closed fire stations to everyone but employees,” O'Brien said.

That means no station tours or visitors. They've also ended community-building events outside their stations.

"That's important stuff, and we hope to get back to that, " said Dalton Fire Department Lt. Dan Hudson. "But for right now, we have taken these steps to reduce our exposure (to the coronavirus)."

Fire departments have also begun asking firefighters to take their temperature before the start of a shift. Anyone with a fever is told to stay home.

“We were always diligent about hand washing and keeping things clean,” said Pangle. “But we have placed an even greater emphasis on washing hands and using hand sanitizer often. We have also mandated that stations be cleaned and disinfected multiple times a day.”

All three departments have also made some changes in the way they handle medical calls — asking individuals, especially those who have fever, cough, trouble breathing or other symptoms of the coronavirus to, if they can, meet them outside their homes. If the individual cannot come outside, one firefighter goes inside to assess the situation

“The idea is to provide aid to those people while at the same time reducing the exposure to our firefighters,” Pangle said.

Firefighters say people understand why they are making these requests.

"Most of the people we come into contact with are aware of what's going on with the pandemic because of the news coverage," said Dalton Firefighter Michael Sams.  "They understand and are actually following the guidelines for social distancing and wearing masks. It's comforting for me to know they understand what's going on and why we are asking them to do the things that we are."

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