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Fire service, State Fire Marshal monitoring COVID-19 impact on MN fire departments

As COVID-19 begins to impact fire departments across the state, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety State Fire Marshal Division (DPS-SFMD) is working with fire service leaders to ensure Minnesota’s 776 departments are able to keep their communities safe should firefighters become ill or need to quarantine.

The DPS-SFMD has created a statewide Fire Department Mutual Aid Status Map to monitor fire department service levels. Fire department status information is updated each weekday.

The map can be found online at https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/sfm/for-fire-departments/Pages/mutual-aid-status-map.aspx.

“COVID-19 is a serious illness that can affect anyone, including firefighters,” said State Fire Marshal Jim Smith. “We are working with fire service leaders to make sure they have what they need to continue doing what they do best: keeping their communities safe.”

Fire departments have local mutual aid partners they can turn to if necessary to help provide fire, medical and other emergency services.

“We have a mutual aid agreement with all of Mower County that we operate with on a daily basis,” said Austin Fire Chief Jim McCoy. “We also have one with Freeborn County and Blooming Prairie.”

On Thursday, the county will be working to develop a more in-depth plan with county fire departments in the event firefighters are impacted by COVID-19.

“As a county, we need to look at what point your service needs to be out of service if you don’t have enough responders to respond,” McCoy said. “What we have done is stopped all in person training for the rest of this month. The only time the fire department will be getting together is on calls. We won’t be doing any in-person training this month or next month. The only time our part-time staff will be in the building is when we page out. Our full-time staff is still in the building for responses.”

While the Fire Department Mutual Aid Status Map currently shows no active COVID-19 cases among firefighters in Mower County, Freeborn County or Blooming Prairie, McCoy said that there have been past cases in the Austin Fire Department.

“We’ve been following strict guidelines on masking and haven’t had any spread within the department,” he said. “The protocol is in place where they have to stay out for two weeks, get tested, and come back with no signs or symptoms.”

The DPS-SFMD is ready to send additional help through the Intrastate Mutual Aid Plan if necessary.

“We are prepared for situations like this,” Smith said. “There are robust plans in place to continue the delivery of emergency services promptly and safely.”

“The bottom line is prevention is where we’re at and hopefully we’ll come up with a plan,” McCoy said.