Coronavirus: Firefighters ask public to be honest if they’re sick

SEATTLE (AP) — Firefighters and first responders in Washington state are seeking donations of protective gear and ask the public to be honest about their symptoms when they call for help so that workers can prepare.

People are sometimes lying about their condition and failing to report a fever or cough when they call 911, fearing the medics won’t come.

Eastside Fire and Rescue in Issaquah is conducting a message campaign to let people know they will respond to calls for help regardless of the person’s symptoms, Capt. Steve Johnson said Monday.

“If we know you have symptoms, we can prepare to help stop the spread of the virus,” he said. “We have the protective gear so we’re not going to not respond to a call.”

Almost 5,000 people across Washington have tested positive for COVID-19 and about 200 have died. Projections say those numbers will rise in coming weeks.

Deaths in Washington state may reach 1,670 by August 4, according to a forecast by Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in several weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

State health officials have put out a call for help to collect everything from surgical masks to disposable thermometers and hand sanitizer to support health care workers, first responders and health care facilities.

More than 80 Seattle firefighters have been quarantined since the new coronavirus hit, and they hope to stay supplied with protective gear. One firefighter in Issaquah remains in quarantine, Johnson said.

“Seattle firefighters are on the front lines of this pandemic and we depend on PPE to keep us and our patients safe,” Kenny Stuart, union president said on Facebook. They also are asking for donations of masks, gowns, gloves and eyewear.

Yakima firefighters also need help.

“We currently have some N95 masks on hand,” Yakima Fire Chief Aaron Markham said on Facebook. “We are using them appropriately and sparingly.”

Kellie Stickney, spokeswoman for Kirkland, said 69 firefighters and police officers have been in and out of quarantine since the beginning of the outbreak and seven firefighters are currently in quarantine.

Kirkland fire department has a supply of protective gear, but they may need more if calls increase, she said. Models show hospitalizations are expected to peak in mid-April, and that would impact first responders, she said.