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

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

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

These numbers reflect the agency’s total workforce of approximately 1,000 people.

“That’s actually down from last week when we had 80 positive cases,” Oklahoma City Fire Department Chief Benny Fulkerson said. “It looks like we’re headed in a better direction now, thank goodness, but hopefully that will continue to be the case.”

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The Oklahoma City Fire Department battles a fire near NW 8 and Ellison Ave. in Oklahoma City in this photo from March 29, 2019. Dozens of Oklahoma City firefighters face COVID-19 cases and restrictions as the omicron variant continues to sweep through Oklahoma.

During the pandemic, the department has been one of the top city agencies in case counts, according to the city’s daily COVID-19 tracker.

This number can be attributed to shared accommodations and proximity to work, as well as recurring interactions with the public.

To combat these pandemic numbers, fire department employees wear protective gear such as masks and goggles when working with the public and also require21 a 10-day quarantine after testing positive.

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However, fire department employees undergo a second test on the seventh day of this quarantine, and if the test is negative, they can return to work while wearing a mask in shared spaces, which is considered restricted work.

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

The Oklahoma City Fire Department battles a fire near NW 8 and Ellison Ave.  in Oklahoma City in this photo from March 29, 2019. Dozens of Oklahoma City firefighters face COVID-19 cases and restrictions as the omicron variant continues to sweep through Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma City Fire Department battles a fire near NW 8 and Ellison Ave. in Oklahoma City in this photo from March 29, 2019. Dozens of Oklahoma City firefighters face COVID-19 cases and restrictions as the omicron variant continues to sweep through Oklahoma.

“These precautions will take effect Jan. 12 and remain in place until Jan. 26,” read Freeman’s internal memo sent to city staff on Wednesday. “I ask for your help in taking these additional steps over the next two weeks to protect you and your colleagues.”

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

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“In Oklahoma County last summer, only 5% of people tested positive. Over the past 7 days, that number has increased to 38%,” Freeman’s memo continued.

For firefighters, masks and testing will continue to be part of everyday life. But the department is also bringing new equipment to each of its stations that will use heat and humidity to decontaminate firefighters’ equipment.

“We can put any of our equipment, like our medical bags and things like that, that we take out on calls and put it in the machine and it kills all the virus,” Fulkerson said of the news. Cres Guard mobile decontamination cabinets. “So we’re doing everything we can.”

On Thursday, the city’s COVID-19 tracker showed 264 open cases in progress 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