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Fire Department heroes stay safe amid virus

LAPLACE — Heroes from the St. John Parish Fire Department have responded to medical calls, monitored testing sites and organized mask distributions in a brave show of community support during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Staying safe while responding to an influx of medical calls was no small feat. March 2020 saw a 24 percent increase in medical calls compared to March 2019, according to Cain Dufrene, chief of operations for Fire Services.
Weeks before the first coronavirus case appeared in St. John, the Fire Department acquired personal protective equipment and issued training webinars on infectious disease control.
The Fire Department responded to 181 calls in March, many of which involved close contact with residents. Not a single career or volunteer firefighter tested positive for COVID-19 thanks to comprehensive safety measures put in place before the virus hit its peak.
“We realized early on that we would have to make changes not just when going to COVID-19 calls, but on all our responses,” Dufrene said. “The guys have to take extra precautions even for fire calls nowadays because you don’t know if that house had COVID in it. You don’t know if the person you’re interacting with has tested positive. We’ve had to be more mindful of what we touch and who we interact with. We’ve also put in a lot of disinfecting procedures for stations and equipment.”
Firefighters wear N95 respirator masks to interact with the public in any fashion, whether it involves responding to an accident scene or a fire alarm. On medical calls, the heroes use the respirator mask in tandem with a full suit, eye protection and gloves for full-body protection.
Acadian Ambulance serves as the primary transport for medical calls, according to Dufrene. The Fire Department works in synergy with EMS to deliver the highest level of care to people in need.
The all-hands-on-deck approach has become even more essential amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“Prior to transport, we make sure the patient isn’t in distress and in need of medical attention,” Dufrene said. “We get them out of the house and into an open-air environment and monitor them until the ambulance arrives. If we need to perform some actions and intervene prior to Acadian getting there, we will.”
While St. John Parish is not out of the woods, Dufrene said the Fire Department seems to have made it “over the hump” of the COVID-19 response. Fewer medical calls are coming in, and firefighters are returning to typical routines with the end of the Stay at Home Order.
Throughout the process, the Fire Department has remained a dedicated community partner. As drive-thru testing sites went up in St. John Parish, fire staff was on hand to make sure it all went smoothly. The Fire Department was part of the planning and execution of large-scale facemask distributions on both sides of the river.
Thanks to these efforts, residents are better equipped to mask up for the ongoing Phase One reopening. Dufrene and the Fire Department are part of St. John Parish President Jaclyn Hotard’s Safety Task Force, which aims to educate and assist businesses to reopen safely while enforcing Phase One guidelines.
“We want to thank all of our frontline heroes for everything they have done to keep us safe during this time and their relentless hard work,” President Hotard said. “Thank you for making the world a better place, and stay safe!”
The St. John Fire Department is made up of career staff and volunteer personnel. Anyone interested in becoming a Career or Volunteer Firefighter can pick up an application at the main office, located at 414 Historic W. Street in Garyville.