Cluster of COVID-19 cases reported at Clayton Fire Department
Posted August 22, 2020 6:09 p.m. EDT
Updated August 24, 2020 12:06 p.m. EDT
Clayton, N.C. — Clayton Fire Department Chief Lee Barbee said over the weekend that 14 of the 41 full-time firefighters on staff have COVID-19. Three of the positive cases involve part-time firefighters.
Barbee said about two weeks ago, a firefighter didn't feel well and let the department know.
"We had daily been disinfecting the station and equipment, but social distancing isn’t always easy to do when responding to emergencies or living together under one roof," Barbee said. "Many don’t realize our firefighters respond to more than just fires, in fact, they respond mostly to medical calls and car accidents, and that includes going into homes and coming into close contact with patients who may have COVID-19."
Barbee also said health officials haven't been able to help trace exactly how the firefighters were infected. Friday, three of the firefighters were in the hospital with the others in quarantine. On Sunday, health officials confirmed another firefighter and the spouse of a firefighter were also in the hospital, bringing the total people in the hospital to five.
Town of Clayton Public Information Officer Stacy Beard said the first sick firefighter led to four others on the same shift testing positive. That led to testing of all three shifts, which is how the 17 positive cases were discovered.
"And that’s why we need your thoughts and prayers more than ever," Barbee said. "Firefighters are family and they also consider the community their family. We can’t name the employees at this time, but we can tell you their loved ones are worried and hurting. Right now, the families haven’t asked for anything specifically – only to know their community is behind them and holding them up their prayers."
Barbee said the other firefighters have been working extra shifts to fill in the gaps. He said there is a full disinfection of the station on each shift change with other measures in place to further promote social distancing such as spacing out sleeping quarters and when and where they eat their meals.
"The firefighters who remain working are hurting, too," Barbee said. "They’re covering for their fire brothers and sisters, gladly filling in shifts, and they haven’t missed a single beat in responding to calls."
Beard said the department is down to 1/3 of its staff with two other shifts filling in.
"Several area fire departments have offered their personnel to assist, which is awesome, and we have resources offered from both Johnston County Emergency Services and North Carolina Emergency Services," Beard said. "But at this time, they are not needed."
Beard also said they've received an outpouring of support from the community over the news of the sick firefighters.
"We have been touched by the generosity of the community, offering to cook meals and bring food," Beard said. "But as much as our firefighters like eating, at this time we are discouraging anyone from bringing anything to our two fire stations."