The Baltimore City fire department has temporarily closed a fire station after learning that employees of the station in the 400 block of McMechen St. may have been exposed to EMS workers who tested positive for COVID-19, according to a statement from the department.
“Temporarily suspending operations from this fire station is a precautionary measure for the agency. We are taking strides to protect our members and the community,” Chief Niles Ford said.
One firefighter is hospitalized and the other remains at home recovering after contracting COVID-19, officials said at a news conference outside City Hall on Thursday.
The police officer has been quarantined at home for over a week after he was made aware of potential exposure, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said. Harrison said he has talked with the officer and described him as in “good spirits,” adding that he and others are “praying for the officer’s full recovery.”
Harrison said that after the officer was quarantined, additional steps were taken to disinfect the officer’s work area. A department statement said the officer was assigned to the Eastern District and has been off while awaiting test results.
Fire Chief Niles Ford said his department would assist the health department investigation to trace the two "members’ whereabouts inside and outside the department to determine where and when they contracted COVID-19.”
Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said her agency would conduct "a contact trace investigation” to examine who the infected people came in contact with, and then alert those people so they can self-quarantine, a key to limiting the spread of COVID-19.
She said first responders are at an increased risk “because they are at the front line with ill residents.”
Dzirasa said the city was notified Thursday of the positive test results.
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said the city is “doing everything humanly possible to protect our first responders,” by providing them with masks, gloves, wipes and other gear as advised by public health experts.
He said the city doesn’t know whether officers picked up the virus at work or while in their own communities.
“We’re looking into it all,” he said.
It’s unclear how many other officers could potentially be asked to self-quarantine based on whether they had contact with the people who are sick.
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No officers or firefighters had previously tested positive in Baltimore.
Several fire department members were quarantined after they came into contact with people potentially infected with COVID-19.
Last week, six were evaluated after coming into contact with a possible coronavirus patient, but they were released after they showed no symptoms. A day later, three fire department members were placed off duty after transferring a patient with suspected coronavirus. The patient tested negative for the virus and the three members were cleared to return to work.
The announcement follows repeated warnings from leaders of the union representing Baltimore Police officers, who have complained that the department lacks enough supplies for officers to protect themselves. Items they said are lacking included hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and face masks.
Union leaders even sent out a plea seeking donations from the public.
Both the police and fire departments have instituted new procedures to limit staff exposure to the disease, which has spread rapidly in recent weeks. Both agencies now require members to wear masks, gloves, and gowns when dealing with potentially infected individuals. Additionally, the police department has closed its facilities to the public.
Baltimore Sun reporters Talia Richman and Emily Opilo contributed to this article.