WASHINGTON (FOX 5 DC) - D.C. Fire and EMS now has 38 confirmed cases of coronavirus and nearly 200 members on quarantine.
With the agency being hit so hard, every effort is being taken to keep firefighters and paramedics safe.
On Tuesday, the city said members would start wearing personal protective equipment on all calls, and for the last two weeks, the department had been decontaminating vehicles at a facility in Northeast D.C.
FOX 5 got a look inside. The facility, typically used to store extra fire vehicles, is now a space where crews come immediately after being exposed to someone with coronavirus symptoms.
A $30,000 machine is used to sanitize vehicles through micro vaporization.
“Ambulance comes in, (crews) wash their hands, wash their face, make sure they don’t have anything on them,” said Deputy Chief James Hanson. “Take your shoes off, leave them in the ambulance, phones, keys, anything you can think of.”
Members shower, get their uniforms washed and then are back on the job. It’s typically a three hour process.
“Every week it’s a new challenge,” said Hanson.
He said one of his direct reports tested positive for the virus, but is now already preparing to return to work.
Some first responders feel it’s not a matter of if they get it, but when.
”It’s so contagious, the fact that we have 190 members off on quarantine,” said Kenneth Otte, a firefighter and EMT from Engine 9.
Otte is going out on calls and also working at the facility to help sanitize vehicles. Meanwhile, he and his wife are expecting their first child.
“I worry about my wife at home more than anything else. When it comes to work this is what our job is,” Otte said. “I have a plan in case I get exposed at work for my family so I can self-quarantine.”
The decontamination facility is open around the clock. Those staffing it are opting to work there in addition to their regular shifts. All vehicles are being brought through to be cleaned on a regular basis according to fire officials.