17 Minn. FFs graduate early to aid COVID-19 response
The firefighters were allowed to graduate a month early to help fill gaps after 11 department members were quarantined
Mara H. Gottfried
Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The St. Paul Fire Department increased its ranks by 17 on Friday by having a group graduate from the training academy a month early.
The increased staff will help with the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the fire department, which handles emergency medical calls. All St. Paul firefighters are emergency medical technicians and some — including six of the new firefighters — are paramedics.
The fire department is preparing to handle more medical calls and to fill in staffing gaps. As of Thursday, four St. Paul firefighters were off work due to symptoms, though their COVID-19 tests came back negative, and another seven were in self-quarantine related to travel or symptoms.
With more people staying home — and with cooking being the leading cause of fire — the department also has to be ready to respond to fires, said Deputy Chief Roy Mokosso. The department is recommending people have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in their home.
The firefighters who graduated Friday have completed state certification in firefighting and EMT, along with all St. Paul fire academy testing. Many have previous firefighting, EMT or paramedic experience, according to Mokosso.
While a St. Paul fire academy graduation could draw at least 200 people — with families and friends there to witness the accomplishment — Friday’s ceremony was closed to the public and held outdoors to maintain social distancing.
An additional 23 firefighters are going through the St. Paul fire academy and are scheduled to graduate on April 24.
The St. Paul Fire Department is screening firefighters before and after their shifts, including checking their temperatures. They’re limiting how many come into contact with patients who have symptoms that could be coronavirus, which will reduce exposure and help preserve the department’s supply of masks and other protective gear, Mokosso said.
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher also told employees in a letter this week to take their temperatures daily and not to come to work if they’re sick. Beginning Wednesday, patrol deputies will be required to wear N95 respirator masks when they are out of their squad cars and within 6 feet of another person, Fletcher wrote.
He noted that people who come into contact with someone who is presumed to have COVID-19 have to complete a 14-day quarantine and, if large numbers of employees are quarantined, that “will jeopardize our ability to continue to deliver service to our community.”
People who are arrested will have a surgical mask placed on them before being transported to the jail, Fletcher wrote. Jail employees are already wearing N95 masks when they’re near inmates.
The St. Paul Police Department, which previously closed district offices to visitors, announced Friday that its headquarters are closed to the public and scheduled to reopen April 13, after the governor’s “stay at home” order is lifted.
©2020 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)