The nature of most of the calls received has changed in recent weeks, thanks to the spread of COVID-19.
Still, the DeForest Police Department and the DeForest Windsor Fire & EMS are about as busy as usual.
“We have a different call volume, but we’re still being proactive, enforcing the laws and maintaining public safety,” said DeForest Police Chief James Olson.
At the DeForest Windsor Fire & EMS District Board meeting on Wednesday, April 1, Chief Steve LaFeber said, “Fire calls are considerably down.” He added, however, that EMS is getting a lot of calls for ill people, and that is bringing the department’s call volume up to normal levels.
Olson said there’s been a similar shift with police calls.
There has also been more of an emphasis on sanitizing. The DeForest Windsor Fire and EMS Station is in lockdown, according to LaFeber, who added that the facility is sanitized three times a day and to maintain social distancing, firemen are sleeping in different areas of the building.
“So there’s nobody in close quarters,” said LaFeber.
Chief Olson said the police department is following guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and cleaning squad cars more frequently, wiping them down before and after every shift. Officers are also wearing more personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves, masks and goggles.
Olson said he and Chief LaFeber are collaborating on how to deal with COVID-19, passing information on the disease back and forth to keep up to date.
Both chiefs said everybody on their respective staffs is healthy and doing what they can to practice social distancing.
“We were talking about what to do even before the first case came to Wisconsin,” said Olson. “We knew it was only a matter of time before it came here.”
Olson said the department is working to keep all co-workers safe. One way is to have officers come to work in plain clothes, rather than in uniform. They then change out of uniform before going home. Uniforms are washed while the officers are off duty. Workers also go through decontamination showers at the fire and EMS station and check in with a health tracker to monitor their conditions.
Such protective measures are also designed to keep staff’s family safe. These times can be hard on them, too.
“I remember when I worked in Milwaukee and seeing my daughter’s face when I came home after an officer was killed in the line of duty,” Olson said.
In working with the police union, alternating work shifts have also been instituted. Olson said it allows for the isolation of staff to help ward off the coronavirus. The changes have staff working seven days on and seven days off. Also, when working, officers stay with the same cars for the duration of their seven-day shifts.
Officers are also practicing social distancing as much as possible. Olson hopes residents won’t be offended if officers stand the requisite 6 feet away while talking to them.
“Here’s the thing: We’re still the guardians of the public,” said Olson. “We still want staff to get out and talk to people. We don’t want a situation where residents think we’re shutting people out.”
Olson expects his department to interact more with residents on social media.
“It’s just such a weird situation,” said Olson. “Last year, we experienced all that flooding, but people could see the water.”
Olson also realizes officers can be a calming and reassuring presence in the community at a time when people are anxious after being cooped up for some time. On the other hand, Olson hopes the public will be patient and understanding in interactions as well. He also wants people experiencing mental health issues, including depression, from the COVID-19 situation to seek out community resources for assistance.
LaFeber said that his department is fully functional and that he is fully healthy. Water and fuel supplies are good, he said, and the department just picked up a year’s supply of firefighting foam. Cell phones are set up for priority calls and radios are working fine.
All fire and EMS personnel get a health system check and sign in before shifts, said LaFeber. “So we’re not sending sick people out,” he added. Staff is required to carry department identification. Sleeping areas are spread out through the department to limit head counts in bedroom spaces. If needed, LaFeber said the generator is full of fuel and ready to go, and maintenance on it is up to date.
LaFeber also said that on fire calls, a command car is being sent out first to go ahead of fire trucks and determine if there is a fire or if an accident needs EMS. Crews will be limited to the minimum number needed to safely handle a call.
“The hope is they get there first and can give an update to the trucks and send only what is needed to limit exposure,” said LaFeber.
As for ambulances, crews are being restricted to teams of two. One crew member will enter the house at a time to handle the needs of the caller.
As of now, LaFeber said he doesn’t have any concerns about PPE material. The department has taken full inventory of its stock and is doing well in its front-line inventory, according to LaFeber’s report. They are waiting on delivery of usable masks for staff, decon lights and washable gowns. He did say, though, that because of the COVID-19 situations, fire inspections and public education events have been put on hold.