HOUSTON - The City of Houston has secured safe and secure accommodations for Houston firefighters who were exposed to COVID-19 and were not able to quarantine at home.
HFD said six firefighters were contacted by doctors Saturday night and informed that someone they'd come in contact with had tested positive for COVID-19. A total of eight firefighters from the department have now been instructed to self-quarantine.
One of eight firefighters currently in quarantine is exhibiting symptoms as of Sunday evening and will have to get tested, according to the union's president, Marty Lancton.
Four of those eight firefighters were unable to quarantine at home because someone there is considered high-risk due to their age or compromised immune system. HFD said those four firefighters have been transported to another temporary location to quarantine for the next two weeks.
Once the City became aware the four firefighters were not able to self-quarantine at home, Fire Chief Sam Peña arranged immediate accommodations for them with the assistance of the Mayor's office. The City of Houston is working on entering into a greater facility agreement to assist personnel who can not self-quarantine at home. That agreement is expected to be finalized this week.
"The safety of our firefighters and their families is my primary concern. I personally secured a location for quarantine on behalf of the City. Health care professionals will actively monitor these four firefighters according to CDC guidelines until they are released back to work," Chief Peña said.
The firefighters will be accommodated at the current location until further notice, which is not being disclosed for their privacy and safety. They are considered to be medium/high-risk in accordance with CDC guidelines.
The medium/high-risk risk level signifies that they treated a patient that has or may have tested positive for COVID-19, and for a variety of reasons, the employee may not have worn the proper personal protective equipment issued to all firefighters. They will be monitored daily for 14 days. If they do not develop symptoms, the firefighters will return to regular duty.
Peña said the department is working on informing anyone else who may be at risk.
Peña said the city is working to finalize a secure facility this week, where other first responders who are unable to self-quarantine for similar reasons, can stay for the recommended 14 days.
However, Lancton said he worries the city isn’t acting fast enough to keep up with the ever-changing developments of the Coronavirus.
“HFD is already under-resourced. We've had staffing issues even before this,” Lancton said.
Peña is reporting that currently, roughly 170 firefighters may have had some risk of exposure and are self-monitoring, but Lancton believes the number could be much higher.
Lancton said at least 250 firefighters have self-reported possible exposure and roughly 225 are considered low-risk. Lancton is now calling for local, state and federal authorities to be more proactive in safely protecting first responders.
For example, Lancton wants authorities to set aside COVID-19 tests designated for symptomatic first responders and increase resources so those on the front lines don’t run out of PPE - personal protective equipment.