ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – In response to the COVID 19 pandemic the St. Augustine Fire Department is taking extra measures to keep their first responders safe.
In an effort to reduce the potential spread of the novel coronavirus, the department elected to house its engine and ladder companies in two separate locations.
St. Augustine Fire Department Chief Carlos Aviles said the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the move as the department takes necessary steps to reduce exposure to the virus.
“One of the areas we identified was that we cohabitated. If our small agency saw one person contract the virus and them come back to the station, for us to have to quarantine seven people would be a fairly significant hit. We now have a crew of three, in the north part of the city, a crew of four downtown in the city on the ladder truck and a crew of three on Anastasia Island.” Aviles said.
The new temporary fire station at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind that houses Engine 42 is just under two miles north of the station No. 1. It’s been dubbed the North Side Dragons.
“The added benefit to it, is all the firefighters have individual rooms, and they are not sharing rooms or bunks spaces. It’s safer than what we could have asked for it to be.” said Aviles, who added the move has also helped with response times in that area.
“City-wide we are still less than five minutes, but this area so just over that at 5:30, so we have effectively… we will be able to cut those in half for the time we are here," Aviles said.
Chief Aviles said each employee completes two medical screenings a shift.
In addition, responding emergency responders are taking extra precautions on calls.
“If our crew rolls up on a medical emergency, our crew is limiting it to one person going in and making that initial contact. That individual will be in an N-95 respirator, and we are going to ask the resident or patient we are encountering to wear a mask we will provide to you for added safety of the responders on the scene," Aviles said.
Typically, the 80-acre campus at FSDB is filled with more than 550 students but now sits mostly quiet and empty.
Dr. Jeanne Prickett is president of the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.
“It was sort of a natural outcome, that highly valued relationship that we are able to contribute to them and our community in that way," Prickett said.
Both Prickett and Aviles said the relationship between the school and the fire department will continue even after the pandemic is resolved.