Manchester Fire Department reports 21 positive COVID cases among the ranks, command says it’s manageable

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Manchester firefighters at the scene of the Dec. 11 early-morning fire at St. Joseph Cathedral. File Photo/Jeffrey Hastings

MANCHESTER, NH – Earlier this week, the Manchester Fire Department had the most positive cases of COVID-19 at any given time since the start of the pandemic, but Assistant Chief Andy Parent said it has not negatively impacted staffing and they’re now on the downswing.

Parent said the department had 24 cases at its peak, earlier in the week. They now have 21 positive cases and expect handfuls of firefighters to recover, complete their quarantine and return to work in stages over the weekend and next week.

“We should have the majority of these people by next week,” Parent said.

The positive cases represent about 10 percent of the overall firefighter complement, but since the department runs four shifts across 10 fire stations, the cases only mean the loss of an average of four or five members per shift, Parent said.

“I don’t want this to sound like a doomsday thing, because it’s not. It’s entirely manageable,” Parent said.

So far, they’ve been able to fill the apparatus staffing levels with overtime, he said.

Those who are infected and medically stable are given the choice to quarantine at home or in a “respite” area, which is a hotel room paid for by the state, according to Parent. Following CDC guidelines, the firefighters stay cloistered for 10 days before returning to work. 

Another 36 department members are in semi-quarantine despite not testing positive, per CDC guidelines, because they had close contacts with others in the department who tested positive. Those members are still able to work, but must quarantine while not working.

“That’s just the nature of the beast because they work in the same station and they ride in the same fire trucks,” Parent said.

Parent said the number of uninfected quarantined firefighters was at 45 earlier in the week.

While firefighters and EMTs respond to medical calls that sometimes involve COVID-19-infected residents, emergency responders wear full protective gear. It’s believed the current cluster originated from family members and spread internally.

“We believe its clusters within our stations and it’s being transmitted from firefighter to firefighter,” Parent said.

He said three of the 10 fire stations were affected but declined to say which to protect the privacy and safety of the members.

Parent said the department ramped up its internal safety policies in the fall, with new fogging sanitizing machines for the stations, twice-daily temperature readings and a so-called “Sentinel Program” which offers daily rapid testing as an option to firefighters.

The Manchester Police Department also has a number of positive COVID-19 cases among the ranks, but department spokesperson Heather Hamel said they are not sharing specific details.

“The Manchester Police Department does have active COVID cases and there have been employees who have recovered from the virus as well. It comes in waves. We are not putting a number to it, but the MPD is not having any issues when it comes to staffing or adequately serving the citizens of Manchester,” Hamel said in an email.

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Ryan Lessard

Ryan Lessard is a freelance reporter.