The New Canaan Fire Department launched a new policy with respect to wearing masks after two municipal employees—neither of them firefighters—tested positive for COVID-19, officials said Tuesday.
All personnel in the fire house will wear a surgical mask when there are two or more people in the same room, and if firefighters are unable to social-distance in the trucks, they will wear masks there, too, according to Fire Chief Jack Hennessey.
“Community spread is out there, so we assume everybody we run into could be potentially infected, so we are protecting each other and ourselves from everybody,” Hennessey said during the Fire Commission’s regular meeting, held via videoconference.
He added, “We are trying to get better testing for our personnel but that is not available yet because they are still only testing symptomatic people and there is no antibody test available to the general public yet. So we are kind of in a holding pattern. No firefighters that I am aware of have tested positive or have COVID, but we do have a number of family members that are sick so we do have three or four people that have been missing work because of sickness in their families and we want to make sure that it does not come into the firehouse.”
Town Hall has been closed to the public since March 23. As of Tuesday evening, officials reported 132 positive cases of coronavirus disease in New Canaan and 14 deaths. Citing information shared at a daily community call, Commissioner Beth Jones said that a senior apartment complex on South Avenue, Schoolhouse Apartments, reported its first positive case of COVID-19. Hennessey said the staff there has been given additional protective equipment to control spread. He said that one sick individual from New Canaan had to be moved to Danbury Hospital because Norwalk ran out of intensive care beds.
“So the hospitals are filling up,” Hennessey said.
Town officials have drafted a Memo of Understanding with the firefighters’ union that would allow the department to violate the collective bargaining agreement when it comes to manpower, Hennessey said, “because we are going to get to the point where we will run out of firefighters and they are going to have to work extra hours.”
“And with this MOU, it allows it without having to worry about grievances,” he said.
Asked by Commissioner Kerry Smith how the firefighters are faring during the public health emergency, Hennessey said that “morale is good.”
“There was some nervousness about people getting exposed,” he said. “Guys that are making calls are just concerned about picking something up and bringing it home to their families. We do have a shelter set up in the event that somebody should get exposed or a public safety people—police, EMS, fire. In case someone gets to a point where they don’t think it’s a good idea to go home and expose their families, we have a shelter set up so that we will be able to provide housing for them during the crisis until they feel it’s safe to go home. If they become sick and they don’t want their families to get sick, we have a place for them, too. So we are going to take care of our own, and the police and EMS are doing the same thing. So if anybody should get sick, we don’t want to endanger anybody’s family. That is a concern for everybody. They are more concerned about their families than themselves.”
Jones said, “That’s the kind of guys they are.”
Commission Chair Jack Horner, Fire Marshal Fred Baker, firefighter and New Canaan Fire Co. No. 1 Executive Board President Sveinn Bragason and Town Councilman Liz Donovan also attended the meeting.