Glendale Fire Department

Even in a record-hot summer, the Glendale Fire Department “masks up.” From left, Capt. Michael Young, Firefighter George Cyrus III, Firefighter Mitch Vankempen and Engineer Chris James. 

Multiple times every day, firefighters and paramedics in Glendale are exposed to patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, or later will test positive.

Yet the number of first responders who themselves test positive is strikingly low.

As president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona, Bryan Jeffries represents 7,000 first responders. He estimates fewer than 300 of them have become sick and/or tested positive for COVID-19.

“That’s not bad,” he said.

He said the reason first responders are not getting sick can be summarized in three words: personal protective equipment.

“The PPE works,” he said. “This masks debate just blows my mind.”

The Glendale Fire Department is strict about using PPE, said Ashley Losch, a department spokeswoman.

“In terms of COVID cases, I think we are similar to most departments,” Losch said. “We saw a surge in cases at the same time that the state did and we are slowing now.  

“I believe that we have put the proper type of PPE in place to protect our membership and good policies from the beginning and that has helped keep our cases relatively low.”

She acknowledged the precarious situations firefighters/paramedics face.

“Certainly there is a risk every time we (treat) a patient that is COVID positive and our people are vulnerable to contracting it. Calculated risk is part of our job. Whether the call be for a fire,  a rescue or a medical call, we are constantly evaluating risk and reacting accordingly. This is just a new type of risk that we have had to navigate through,” Losch said.

Despite frequently treating COVID-19 patients and transporting them to hospitals, Jeffries of the firefighters union said his membership “have had very few hospitalizations.

“Once we got past a shortage of PPE, we were able to secure a lot of PPE,” he said. “Our members have been exceptional about wearing the same stuff staff in hospitals do on calls—the shields, the masks, gowns, foot coverings.”

And, he added, the public has been cautious and respectful about emergency responders.

“We’ve had good experiences showing up at people’s homes who are wearing masks—or, when we come to the door, they’ll ask if we want them to put a mask on.”

His message to the public: Wear masks, it works—and firefighters are proving it.

“It is definitely not as comfortable to wear all the PPE when it’s hot out. But that comes with the job,” Jeffries said.

“It’s definitely causing discomfort, but we have to do that. We can’t compromise our safety or our patients’ safety.”

The same goes in Glendale, where temperatures have been screaming above 110 for most of the last month.

“As for the heat, that is something we know is coming every year, and we encourage our members to begin heat acclimating early so that our bodies are ready,” Losch said. “We workout outside, drill outside in turnouts and we encourage constant hydration. … On days where we anticipate exceptionally high temperatures we ask firefighters to refrain from extra workouts so as to avoid dehydration.”