OKC Fire Department fights Covid-19 cases as mask mandate put in place for city employees

·3 min read

The Oklahoma City Fire Department is contending with COVID-19 cases among its ranks as a new mask requirement for city employees begins and previous preventive measures remain in place.

The fire department has 59 employees with active COVID cases, while another 30 are working under restrictions and 11 others are waiting for test results, according to the department's daily case tracker.

Those numbers are reflective of the agency's total workforce, which consists of roughly 1,000 people.

"That's actually down from last week when we had 80 positives," said Chief Benny Fulkerson of the Oklahoma City Fire Department. "It looks like we might be going in a better direction now, thank goodness, but we're hopeful that continues to be the case."

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The Oklahoma City Fire Department battles a house fire near NW 8 and Ellison Ave. in Oklahoma City in this March 29, 2019 photo. Scores of Oklahoma City firefighters are dealing with COVID-19 cases and restrictions as the omicron variant continues to surge across Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma City Fire Department battles a house fire near NW 8 and Ellison Ave. in Oklahoma City in this March 29, 2019 photo. Scores of Oklahoma City firefighters are dealing with COVID-19 cases and restrictions as the omicron variant continues to surge across Oklahoma.

Over the course of the pandemic, the department has been one of the leading city agencies in case numbers, according to the city's daily COVID-19 tracker.

That count can be attributed to shared living quarters and close work proximity, along with recurring interactions with the public.

To combat those pandemic numbers, fire department employees are wearing protective gear such as masks and goggles when working with the public and also requiring21 a 10-day quarantine after a positive test.

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However, fire department employees are given a second test on the seventh day of that quarantine, and if the test is negative they can return to work while wearing a mask in shared spaces, which is considered working with restriction.

But the department's masking rule is moot after City Manager Craig Freeman this week reinstituted a mask mandate for all city employees.

The Oklahoma City Fire Department battles a house fire near NW 8 and Ellison Ave. in Oklahoma City in this March 29, 2019 photo. Scores of Oklahoma City firefighters are dealing with COVID-19 cases and restrictions as the omicron variant continues to surge across Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma City Fire Department battles a house fire near NW 8 and Ellison Ave. in Oklahoma City in this March 29, 2019 photo. Scores of Oklahoma City firefighters are dealing with COVID-19 cases and restrictions as the omicron variant continues to surge across Oklahoma.

"These precautions will take effect Jan. 12 and will remain in place until Jan. 26," read Freeman's internal memo sent to city staff on Wednesday. "I’m asking for your help to take these extra steps for the next couple of weeks to protect yourselves and your coworkers."

Masks are required in city offices while working with others, in shared spaces and when working with the public. The city's risk management department also is offering 10 N95 respirator masks to each city employee.

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"In Oklahoma County last summer, just 5% of people who tested were positive. Over the past 7 days, that number has risen to 38%," Freeman's memo continued.

For the fire department, masks and testing will continue to be apart of daily life. But the department also is bringing in a new piece of equipment to each of its stations that will use heat and humidity to decontaminate firefighters' gear.

"We can put any of our equipment, like our medical bags and things like that, that we take out on calls and put it into the machine and it kills all the virus," Fulkerson said about the new Cres Guard mobile decontamination cabinets. "So we're doing everything that we can."

The city's COVID-19 tracker on Thursday showed 264 current open cases across all city agencies, with another 309 employees working with restrictions.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OKC firefighters battling COVID; city issues mask mandate for workers

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