Fire Safety During the Pandemic

Written by Theresa-Marie Wilson

Theresa-Maria Wilson has been a journalist covering the North Coast and South County area for over 20 years. She is also the founder of Cat Noir CC and is currently working on a novel.

May 9, 2020

The coronavirus has put a stop to many of our day-today activities, but it wont stop a fire. Cal Fire South Bay Station 15 operating in Los Osos is prepared for both the pandemic and wildfire season.

The department has made some changes to day-today structure, while maintaining a balance between social distancing precautions and necessary emergency responses.

“In terms of our emergency response, we are donning appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on each incident and decontaminating our equipment after each use,” said Danny Ciecek, fire captain and paramedic with Station 15.  “We are also limiting personnel that are within 6 feet of patients, and only putting our folks in that space on an as needed basis. There have been some adjustments, but it’s what we need to do right now. After about 6 weeks of these measures, it has become almost normal for us. But the first couple weeks were very stressful.”

Keeping public safety in mind, firefighters are limiting their time out in public to essential projects and grocery shopping. The department has also temporarily suspended commercial occupancy inspections, school inspections, and station tours as well as bi-monthly training drills with their reserve firefighter staff of about 20.  All non-essential training has also been postponed or canceled. 

Within fire stations, where groups of firefighters co-habitat on shifts — living, eating and working together — vulnerability to the coronavirus is a concern.

“Social distancing is difficult to achieve in a fire station because it has some similarities to home life,” said Ciecek “We spend a lot of time together. 

We’ve started conducting daily wellness checks of our staff, with temperature readings. We have plans in place in the event an employee starts showing symptoms.  We’re following the recommendations from health officials.  Operationally, we’re trying to stay as status quo as possible, while adding these new steps and considerations.”

To date, no firefighter at the station has tested positive for COVID-19.

Although fire safety should be practiced year round, the current situation calls for extra attention to things people may have overlooked.

“Since folks are spending so much time at home, it may be a good time to review or establish a fire safety plan at home,” Ciecek said.  “Maybe it involves looking at ones electrical equipment, or maybe an escape plan. This time spent at home could absolutely be used to talk about fire safety and preparation.”

With many adults and children staying at home during the pandemic, electrical outlets are likely being used more as everyone plugs in to charge phones, laptops and other digital equipment for work, distance learning or binging a favorite show. Often this is done in the same outlet, which can create a fire hazard.

“Overloading the power supply of a home is a real hazard,” Ciecek said. “That’s why it’s so important use powered equipment and accessories in appropriate ways.”

Hazards include equipment plugged into extension cords that are then plugged into a surge protector, which is then plugged into a wall socket. Remember, when charging smartphones and other digital devices, only use the charging cord that came with the device, and do not charge a device under your pillow, on your bed or on a couch.

Ciecek said another scenario is anytime temporary lighting, such as seasonal Christmas lights, are used in a permanent setting. 

“These are examples of electrical equipment or accessories being used in ways that exceed their intended capacity,” he said.

To add to already taxing times, wildfire season, which is basically year round in the state, is reaching the high-risk time of year. Everything from manpower to protective gear could be put to the test.

Locally, Cal Fire has moved from a winter preparedness mode into transitional staffing, which includes fire engines staffed throughout the County as well as aircraft at Paso Robles Air Attack Base,” There will also be one more big up staffing of seasonal firefighters in the County in the next few weeks.

“Risk of wildfire is coming, like it always does this time of year,” Ciecek said. “Just as we’ve made modifications to how we respond and handle emergencies with the COVID 19 situation, we will adjust our operation to wildland fire response.”

As part of standard procedure this time of year, Station 15 will move forward with annual weed abatement inspections beginning June 1st.  Further, information about a community-chipping event to help eliminate waste collected from clearing around homes will come out in the next few weeks.

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