3 Fernandina Beach firefighters quarantined after transporting 2 COVID-19 patients

YULEE, Fla. – Three Fernandina Beach Fire Department firefighters will be quarantined for 14 days after they transported a patient to the hospital who turned out to test positive for coronavirus, the county’s emergency management director announced Thursday.

The firefighters are being monitored for any symptoms of the potentially deadly virus.

A second rescue team, from Nassau County Fire Rescue, was notified they transported another patient who turned out to have COVID-19. However, those rescuers were not believed to be directly exposed and were not put into quarantine.

Greg Foster, Nassau County’s director of emergency management, said the two hospital transports occurred within 24 hours and the patients were confirmed to have COVID-19 after they were admitted.

According to the Florida Department of Health Thursday morning, there were 14 people in Nassau County who have tested positive but only one in the hospital. Foster said Thursday afternoon that there now 16 positive cases in the county.

Foster said the county has changed protocols to respond to the threat to employees from the virus and people who call first responders for help who suspect they might have coronavirus are asked to let the dispatcher know upfront so those responding can use the personal protective equipment.

Firefighters and rescue personnel are provided facemasks, gowns and other PPE.

“Throughout this crisis, we’ve identified changes in protocol that would assist in protecting the first responders that are responding to these calls and we are implementing those,” Foster said.

The gear the firefighters involved used has been cleaned and returned to service.

Chief Ty Silcox, who is in charge of the Fernandina Beach Fire Department, said the three male firefighters were unaware the patient was having COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival. He said the emergency caller did not disclose that the patient had a fever. During transport, the EMTs determined the person in their rescue unit was probably suffering from the coronavirus.

He urged the public to be open and transparent with dispatchers and first responders to keep COVID-19 from spreading.

“We are working to flatten the curve,” Silcox said. “We are still going to respond if you think you have the virus. No one will be treated differently. The only thing that will change is the way we are dressed.”

Silcox said the quarantined rescuers are on paid administrative leave.

While FBFD is a small department, Silcox said the staffing at the agency is “doing well” at the moment.

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