Virginia’s Fairfax County Fire and Rescue is being hit by rising COVID-19 cases, and the department is temporarily shifting its staffing in response.
“Currently, 66 employees have tested positive for COVID. An additional 12 FCFRD staff are in quarantine,” the department said in a news release Wednesday.
Adjustments include cross staffing among six units, including a Hazardous Materials Unit, a Hazardous Materials Support Unit and four tankers located throughout Fairfax.
Four units will be placed out of service: Tower Ladder 405 (Franconia), Medic 408B (Annandale), Medic 409B (Mount Vernon) and Medic 410B (Bailey’s Crossroads). According to the release, the medic units are located at stations that have two EMS units assigned to them, and one EMS unit at each station will stay in service.
“The recent rise in COVID cases has affected everyone including first responders. These temporary adjustments are the result of data-informed decisions made to minimize the impact of staffing changes on our communities and ensure that the men and women of FCFRD can continue providing the highest quality fire suppression and emergency medical services to the communities we serve. We must balance the ability to carry out the mission of our department with the health, safety, wellness, and morale of our responders,” Fire Chief John Butler said in a statement.
“Our goal is to return to normal operations as quickly and safely as possible as the number of positive COVID cases decline within the department. We appreciate the support and patience of our residents and visitors.”
A 20-plus year veteran of the fire department expressed concern to WTOP on Tuesday about staffing issues, adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols within fire stations and what he believed to be a lack of transparency with the public.
“I am motivated to share this information out of concern for my family and friends. My neighborhood is impacted by the staffing shortage. I think the department should share this with the public because it does affect services. If a unit is understaffed or out of service, the fire department’s service delivery/protection of the public is significantly impacted. I am also concerned for employees and their families. Most employees are not taking simple precautions, such as wearing face masks when near each other,” the source wrote.
He also said that “cross staffing” means one crew is covering two different units, but only one unit can respond to a call at a time.
“For example, if a crew is covering Engine 440 and Hazmat 440…and the engine gets a call, the hazmat is no longer available for emergencies until the engine returns to the station.”
Fairfax County Fire and Rescue spokesperson Ashley Hildebrandt said the department published its COVID-19 statistics weekly, as long as there is a change on its website as well as on its social media channels.
The department announced its first positive coronavirus test in April of 2020.
Increasing COVID-19 cases have also forced Montgomery County Fire and Rescue in Maryland to make staffing changes.
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WTOP’s Kristi King contributed to this report.