WASHINGTON — More than 140 members of DC Fire and EMS are self-quarantining after 10 firefighters tested positive for the coronavirus, department officials said. The original outbreak stemmed from two firefighters -- who were partners -- testing positive.
One of the newest case involves an assistant fire chief that was not feeling good over the weekend, according to officials.
"Our Infection Control Group is working closely with DC Health Department officials to identify and contact any members who were potentially exposed to the assistant fire chief since Saturday, March 21," Gregory Dean, the chief of DC FEMS, said in a statement. "We ask that you continue to take this pandemic seriously. Please continue to utilize the proper PPE on each medical call and patient contact to reduce your risk of exposure."
"The department has implemented an infection control group that is working very closely with D.C. Health so that we can assess and monitor and evaluate," Dean said.
A D.C. Fire and EMS spokesperson said the quarantined members are not having any impact on response, and all units are in service and operating at full capacity.
"To the men and women of the D.C. fire department who have volunteered to backfill all these members that are out, I must tell you I'm extremely proud of you for taking care of your community, and thank you very much," Dean said on Thursday.
Dabney Hudson, president of D.C. Firefighters Association IAFF Local 36, said the decision to quarantine comes from a heightened response to the virus. Local 36 has over 2,000 members and responds to roughly 220,000 emergency calls a year.
Mayor Muriel Bowser said just one first responder impacted by COVID-19 has a ripple effect in the entire service.
"DC Health is leading the contact tracing of the member who tested positive, an investigation that includes other FEMS members as well as members of the community," Dean said in a statement on March 18.
The decision to self-quarantine poses a unique challenge to District emergency response workers who are required to assist those in need but also are attempting to protect their own health.
At least 12 members of Prince George's County Fire and EMS chose to self-quarantine after going inside the home of a man who tested positive for the virus last week, Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said.
Alsobrooks made the announcement at a county emergency management press conference on March 12, stating that the department would continue to follow guidelines and work with members on monitoring symptoms.
"The department is following its policies and procedures regarding self-evaluation of those firefighters and will continue to monitor their conditions," Alsobrooks said.