ALBEMARLE, N.C. —
Several first responders are answering the call this week for the Albemarle Fire Department.
According to Albemarle City Manager Michael Ferris, the department has confirmed cases of COVID-19 among employees. Employees impacted by the virus are off duty and will return to work once cleared by health officials.
AFD has implemented sanitation and decontamination protocols for their stations and equipment to help prevent the spread, Ferris added.
The city manager said response times should not be impacted at all three stations with them being staffed and in service.
“In order to maintain appropriate staffing levels and response timeframes, AFD will be utilizing the assistance of other fire department agencies,” Ferris said in a statement to WCNC Charlotte on Monday. “These agencies will provide additional staffing necessary to help operations continue until AFD staff recover. We are thankful that some AFD staff have recovered and are keeping those still dealing with COVID in our thoughts.
AFD posted on Facebook Monday evening the Office of State Fire Marsal is on the ground to help coordinate services and mentioned the Kannapolis Fire Department as one of the agencies providing firefighters to help cover some shifts.
Kannapolis Fire Chief Tracy Winecoff spoke with WCNC Charlotte on Tuesday and said AFD assisted them before with the funeral of retired chief Rick Barnhardt and that Kannapolis was more than willing to offer a helping hand during this time.
“We’re just thankful to be in a place to provide coverage for Albemarle in their time of need,” he said.
Winecoff said the department was alerted about some of AFD members being sick last week.
“We have folks here with local ties to Albemarle,” he explained. “Whether they live in Stanly County or volunteer with fire departments there. We knew early on and reached out to their administration to offer assistance and let them know we’re thinking about them, keeping them in our prayers and if they needed something to let us know.
The formal request for some staffing help was made on Monday through the Office of State Fire Marshal.
Winecoff said it will vary throughout the week, but Kannapolis will send between four to six members to help AFD over the next couple of days.
“Our folks have really stepped up,” Winecoff said. “We’re able to send some folks that are off duty to help cover and we’ll rotate them out on a daily basis, just like if they were on a regular shift.”
Other agencies are also helping to ensure staffing is OK at AFD’s three stations. Winecoff said he expects between 12 to 15 firefighters helping out between AFD’s stations to take some of the workload off the current AFD employees.
“It’s not the first time we’ve had to that, nor is it the first time we’ve asked for assistance,” he said. “A lot of the times, unfortunately, when we see this is typically when there’s a firefighter injury or maybe a death within the department. As an extended family, we always try to help each other out... to step up and cover. You still have the continuity of service, and it gives those other employees time to deal with what they have to deal with, without having to worry what’s happening at the fire house. That’s a great relationship to have. ”
Winecoff said Kannapolis is staying the course with current COVID-19 protocols in place, but keeping an eye on increases, especially with the recent spread of the Delta variant.
“With the new variant, it is certainly concerning,” he explained. “We’re still encouraging PPE as we have done. We haven’t fully resumed our response to certain medical-call types.”
Winecoff said he’s encouraging people within the department to get a COVID-19 vaccine. He's encouraging community members to do their due diligence when researching the vaccine and to follow facts and science, not misinformation that could be circulating on social media.
“That can be a really touchy subject, Even in public safety," he said. "I feel personally, based on the science and based on the data; I think the vaccinations are the road to beating this. I just think its important for our responders, if they can and they’re willing to do that, to get the vaccine. Not only to keep themselves safe, but also those they’re working with and their family.”
Albemarle officials, in conjunction with the Office of the State Fire Marshal, and the Stanly County Health Department, will conduct a news conference on Wednesday, July 21 at 11:30 a.m. to provide an update about the COVID-19 outbreak.