A Winston-Salem firefighter tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, forcing the quarantine of an additional 19 firefighters until they can be tested, Winston-Salem Fire Chief William “Trey” Mayo said.
Station 5 on Palmer Lane was out of service for 18 hours Wednesday night while it was being disinfected and returned to use.
Mayo said that the affected firefighter did not become ill at work, but that the other firefighters who may have come into contact with the employee were sent home on quarantine for testing.
Station 5 is off Clemmonsville Road near its intersection with Old Lexington Road.
Mayo said all the other major fire departments in the state had earlier experienced COVID-19 cases, and that he’s proud of his employees for avoiding cases as long as they did.
“We do a pretty rigorous screening at the beginning and end of each shift,” Mayo said. “Firefighters do not come into the building before their temperature is checked. We have commercial sanitation products. We held out as long as we could.”
Station 5 is home to both an engine crew and a ladder crew. The quarantine affects both companies.
Mayo said that the layout of each station is different, but that at Station 5, each captain has a private room and the remaining four to six firefighters on duty share a common room.
Firefighters work shifts that basically have them on for 24 hours followed by 48 hours of off time. Mayo said the firefighter who tested positive was exposed to the coronavirus while off duty.
Because of the shift setup, Mayo said, only a third of the firefighting force is on duty at any one time. That makes it possible to keep operations running by shifting employees around, Mayo said.
While Station 5 was out of service, he said, a company came in and did a “deep clean” on the station, wiping surfaces with disinfectant and operating a fogging machine to cleanse living areas with an anti-viral mist.
Mayo said firefighters’ COVID-19 safety practices include wearing masks on trucks and in other areas where they can’t practice social distancing. There’s not many more precautions they can take, Mayo said.
“We are about bottomed out in terms of what we can do without the customers seeing a reduction in service,” Mayo said.