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Fire, police chiefs maintain services while striving to protect employees from possible COVID-19 exposure

BUCKHANNON – For Buckhannon’s police and fire chiefs, coping with COVID-19 is a balancing act between maintaining uninterrupted service while simultaneously protecting their employees – first responders – from possible infection with COVID-19.

Over the past month, Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory, Buckhannon Fire Chief J.B. Kimble and first responders across the county have been working to prepare for the COVID-19 outbreak, which was first reported in the county Thursday.

As of Friday afternoon, there’s still just one confirmed case of COVID-19 in Upshur County, but first responders say they’ve been preparing for some time by gathering important information and equipment needed now that the virus has reached Buckhannon and the surrounding areas.

Earlier this week, Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory explained what the Buckhannon Police Department has been doing to prepare for the spread of COVID-19 to Buckhannon.

“First and foremost, we are remaining vigilant,” Gregory said. “We have been receiving a lot of good information from sources such as the CDC, our local health department, the Upshur OEM, as well as different law enforcement resources based out of Charleston concerning guidelines of how officers can keep themselves safe when responding to calls, especially with the potential to encounter individuals who either have been diagnosed or have symptoms relevant to COVID-19.”

“We are making sure that as we receive this information, that we are properly disseminating that to all officers, making sure that they all stay informed and trained on those guidelines,” he added.

The BPD also has a plan to ensure their officers’ safety with the proper protective materials.

“We’re also working with the health department and the state government to make sure that we are maintaining a supply of personal protection equipment,” Gregory said. “We’ve recently received masks and gloves from our health department as of late last week, and we’ve rationed those out to each of our officers and [we are] keeping our channels of communication open with local and state agencies to maintain resupply of that equipment.”

They have implemented a system that will help first responders become notified beforehand if someone is showing symptoms of COVID-19, so they can take all the precautionary measures they may need.

“We’re coordinating with telecommunicators [with the Upshur E911 Communication Center] and having them screen calls, just asking a couple extra questions in regard to the potential for anybody with any illnesses or symptoms of illness, particularly related to COVID-19 and communicating that to the officers, so that we can have a more heightened awareness in our response in terms of maintaining social distance and doing what we can through PPE and our own procedures to make sure that we stay safe and keep the community safe as well,” Gregory explained.

The BPD and Fire Department have been closed to the public since March 16, so some of the services normally offered within the BPD are being conducted through online resources.

“Right now, we’re maintaining regular patrol, regular service with the exception of our building being closed to the public and some of our administrative services are not being offered at this time,” Gregory said.

Kimble also gave an overview of the Buckhannon Fire Department’s COVID-19 preparation strategies and how they’re keeping their employees safe if a situation arises in which they’re exposed to the virus.

“We evaluated our system and what we did originally, and we started coming up with the maximum amount of people that we want going to each call, which would limit exposure to any virus,” Kimble said.

“We typically run any emergency medical call within city limits,” Kimble said. “If we get a high-risk call that would relate to the symptoms of the coronavirus, we have precautionary measures that we take while responding. That includes equipment that we put on, and also if we get there after the ambulance arrives, we correspond with them to see if we actually need to come into the house.”

While normally Kimble would be doing regular operational and administrative work at the fire house, he explained that now his daily routine is a bit different.

“We have about three or four conference calls every week where we correspond with other organizations over the phone where we talk about what’s going on and what our plans are,” Kimble said.

The fire department is still mostly operational, other than not allowing the general public into the building to maintain social distance.

“We’re still responding to three to five calls a day,” Kimble said.

The police department and fire department, as well as the health department, have continued to communicate with one another on how to be as prepared as they can.

“Chief Gregory and I both started discussing this a couple weeks ago and the last thing we wanted to do was get the fire station or the police department quarantined,” Kimble said. “So, our biggest goal is to continue our services that we are providing but try to limit the exposure as much as possible.”

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