Many fire departments in the D.C. area are making emergency changes to keep serving the public as they continue to lose staff to COVID-19.
Chief Scott Goldstein, of Montgomery County Fire & Rescue, spoke Wednesday night about the challenges within his department that led him to make changes in the last 24 hours.
“It's about 10% of the career staff and a smaller percentage of the volunteer personnel [out sick], but it's a large impact to our ability to respond to your calls and help our citizens," he said. “We’ve had some previously trained folks that joined our department, that had graduated our academy, that were still in their last couple days of orientation that were turned over and they became minimum staffing as well today."
Some of the measures have are connected to a steady increase in hospitalizations, including 2,000 patients - a record number - hospitalized for COVID-19 statewide.
“Unlike previous spikes, we are depleted in terms of staff available to care for everyone,” Bob Atlas, the president and CEO of the Maryland Hospitals Association, said.
The figures have led to calls for Gov. Larry Hogan to reinstate a limited public health emergency declaration. In a statement, Hogan said hospital capacity levels are being watched closely, with alternate care sites ready if necessary. The state is also committing $100 million to address urgent staffing needs.
Montgomery County is not alone in this situation. Measures like Goldstein's are in effect at nearly every fire department statewide.
The story’s much the same in Fairfax County. At last count, 66 fire department employees are on sick leave. Another dozen are in quarantine.
The agency has resorted to cross staffing among some specialized units to allow them to remain in service. Four units that have sufficient back-up are being temporarily placed out of service.
Back in Montgomery County, Goldstein had a message for residents.
“We are here to help, we are absolutely available to assist in your emergency, but only call 911 for medical emergencies, medical situations that require immediate attention," he said.
For other situations, people are advised to call their doctors or visit urgent care centers.