Firefighters statewide are stretched for supplies, ask for help

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Manchester Fire Fighter Gregg Gelinas says that everyone is taking extra precautions citywide during the COVID-19 pandemic. All units are required to wear N95 masks to calls that involve flu-like symptoms. Credit: Jessica Arnold/Arnold Imaging LLC


Around the state, fire departments are keeping a close eye on the health of their employees and on their stock personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. 

“We are not in critical need, but we are being judicious with how we use our PPE,” said Lebanon Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Chris Christopoulos.

To keep his staff protected, he is not fulfilling requests for items like masks from non-emergency departments. “We are prioritizing this for people on emergency calls.”

“We are trying to keep our workforce as healthy as we can,” Christopoulos said. “We cannot predict out 10, 20, 30 or 60 days.”

Now, fire personnel are wearing N-95 masks on all calls until they determine the patient is not at risk for COVID-19. Those masks can be re-used until they have contact with someone who has the virus. 

 “One thing we are experiencing is that patients are not being forthcoming as they could be about whether they are experiencing flu-like symptoms and (care) providers are being told well after contact,” Christopoulos said.  “I wish we could rely on people to be more forthcoming.”

New Hampshire’s congressional delegation has requested resources for PPE and items like ventilators from the federal government’s Strategic National Stockpile. State emergency operations officials confirmed that towns are requesting additional from the state. 

The city of Rochester, in a media release, said it was ensuring all personnel are fit-tested for masks and reviewing the proper use of PPE to make sure there is enough for medical responses. 

Justin Kates, director of emergency management in Nashua, said their supply of PPE is adequate for now, but they are looking a few weeks ahead and the supply will dwindle if not restocked.

“First, we are looking locally at any vendors who can possibly supply us with masks and cleaning supplies, Kates said. “Second, we have asked the state operations center for a 30-day supply at least, but the state said today that we’ll get about 1/10th of that, which we’ll take. I know the state is continuing to get more supplies from the feds.” 

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To help boost the supply locally, the city is launching a donation drive to help first responders starting Monday, March 23 through Wednesday, March 25. Items can be dropped off at the Department of Public Works, 9 Stadium Drive, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.  

Smaller departments are faring somewhat better. 

In Hampton Falls, Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Jay Lord said his department just went through their inventory and there is enough PPE for the next few weeks. However, he has put in an order, which he may not get until May. 

“We don’t have the bigger issues with supplies like the bigger cities,” he said. 

Bedford Fire Captain Thatcher Plante said the department is continuing to provide the same level of service as it normally does, including building inspections. However, the Bedford safety complex is closed to the public so anyone with permit applications or plans can leave them in the exterior dropbox. 

Plante also noted the department does not need any protective equipment or masks at this point. 

“We are being diligent with the supplies we have,” he said. 

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Susan Geier for Granite State News Collaborative