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Firefighters adding COVID-19 safety protocols during busy fire season

By Alex Cabrero, KSL TV | Posted - Jul. 8, 2020 at 6:43 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Wildfire crews will have to follow new protocols this season to prevent spreading COVID-19 as they fight flames across Utah.

When you see the work firefighters did to prevent homes from burning in Saratoga Springs and Lehi recently, it’s impressive.

There are burn scars right next to hundreds of homes.

But what if the crews that protected those houses were quarantined because of coronavirus, and could not be there?

View of the Knolls Fire burn scar from Chopper 5 on Monday, June 29, 2020. (Photo: Jed Boal, KSL TV)

“It’s a serious situation this year. A little bit more so than it has been in the past,” said Tracy Dunford, the safety coordinator for Utah’s Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

Keeping fire crews healthy and away from coronavirus is a big part of his job this year.

“It’s been very challenging,” he said. “If we start spreading this through fire crews, fire resources, the fire community, we’re going to lose a lot of capacity to do this job. So, not only do we not want to get people sick or spread it into the community, we want to maintain that workforce.”

That’s why new protocols are in place for wildland firefighters this season to keep them as safe as possible from coronavirus.

For the most part, for firefighters on the frontlines, it’s business as usual, because there’s room to social distance.

Back at fire camp, or at the fire incident command post, you won’t see large groups of firefighters like you normally would. Instead, fire managers are keeping crews, or modules, separated.

“There is an extra sense of urgency this year,” said Dunford. “We try to keep these modules separated from other modules. So, if something happens, it’s at least contained within that module.”

That also means no traditional buffets to feed firefighters after a long shift. Instead, they’re given individual pre-packaged meals.

At briefings, only essential team leaders will be present and wearing masks.

“We really, really have to be careful with this stuff because it’s, the pandemic is still here, cases are going up, we want to keep people safe and healthy and maintain that capacity,” said Dunford. “I guess you could say the footprint of that fire camp has gotten much larger so we can maintain that spacing, keep those modules apart.”

The firework-caused Traverse Fire burns in Lehi, Utah. (Photo: Ladd Egan, KSL TV)

Dunford said fire crews have to be careful about exposing themselves to the surrounding community. Typically, there are wildfire public meetings where people can visit with fire managers and ask questions.

“Traditionally, we have been mingling with people within the community, and of course that’s a concern as well,” said Dunford.

That’s also why firefighters said, considering this year’s fire danger, the message to be careful when you’re outside is about as urgent as it gets.

Every fire means there is potential for a firefighter to get sick, which could quarantine entire crews and keep them from responding to the next fire.


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