Nearly half of Wayne's firefighters in quarantine for COVID-19

Evan James Carter
The Detroit News

Wayne — Nearly half of the city's firefighters have tested positive for the coronavirus and are unable to work, taking a toll on the community's first responders during the pandemic, the city said.

The Wayne Fire Department has six of its 14-member crew at home on quarantine after they tested positive for COVID-19, according to City Manager Lisa Nocerini. 

The city's fire chief said the department will ask neighboring communities like Westland, through its mutual aid pact, to help with fire response and medical calls, if needed.

"Six in quarantine. That's one entire shift," Nocerini said. "We don't know where (the contact with the virus) came from. They've been covered, they've had personal protection on. It's just scary."

The sidelining of many in Wayne's Fire Department comes amid an uptick in runs. The city's fire chief, Michael Stradtner, who also serves as Westland's fire chief, said the amount of calls for the Wayne and Westland fire departments are up 30%.

"As soon as (coronavirus) started hitting Wayne County, we started hearing this," said Stradtner, referring to the jump in fire or emergency calls. 

Firefighters gear at the Wayne Fire Department in Wayne, Michigan on  September 7,  2010.

The Wayne Fire Department operates with firefighters who are cross-trained as paramedics in the city. A majority of the calls for firefighters are for medical reasons, Nocerini said.

The closure of Beaumont Hospital's Wayne site, which previously received 90% of the city's medical runs, also is affecting the department, she said.

Stradtner said Wayne's department also will compensate for the absence of sick firefighters by paying other firefighters overtime to work extra shifts.

Shifts in the Wayne Fire Department are 24 hours.

A firetruck belonging to the city of Wayne.

"It's tough when 30% of (a) department gets sick in a week," Stradtner said. "It's a commitment to do this job."

It's not unusual for Westland or other neighboring communities to respond to a call in Wayne through mutual aid agreements, Stradtner said. Most cities had increased their ability to transport patients in response to the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

Stradtner said its "fortunate" that COVID hasn't significantly reduced the ability of many fire departments throughout the region to respond to calls.

He said the challenge of dealing with a coronavirus infection impacting a department is that "it may be 2 weeks before we can get back up in full force" after someone contracts the disease.

About 25 miles east, the Detroit Fire Department has 76 firefighters in either isolation or quaratine due to coronavirus, with 68 testing positive for the disease according to Robert Distelrath, the department's Chief of Department. Detroit Fire Department.

The Detroit Fire Department's response times have not been adversely affected due to coronavirus, said Deputy Commissioner Dave Fornell.

"This is alarming and shows just how serious this pandemic is," Nocerini said in an email. "It is taking a toll on our front-line workers."

Twitter: @EvanJamesCarter