Five Keizer Fire Department paramedics quarantined after caring for COVID-19 patient

Five paramedics with the Keizer Fire Department are in quarantine after coming in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19. (Courtesy/Keizer Fire Department)

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Five Keizer Fire Department paramedics are quarantining at home after caring for and transporting a patient who has since tested positive for COVID-19.

The group includes an engine crew and an ambulance crew who responded to a March 5 medical call, deputy fire marshal Anne-Marie Storms said. A department volunteer who responded to the call is also self-quarantining, she said.

None have reported symptoms of illness, Storms said.

Keizer Fire has 28 first responders on staff, all of whom are both firefighters and emergency medical technicians or paramedics, Storms said. Nine are on duty during a shift, so the quarantine is a significant reduction in the station’s workforce.

“That is ultimately two-thirds of a shift out,” Storms said.

The group is remaining at home for 14 days on the advice of the Marion County Health Department. Storms said the health department is considering whether a 14-day quarantine is necessary in all cases where firefighters and medics may have come into contact with someone ill with the novel coronavirus.

For now, she said the loss of employees who can work is similar to what happens when the department responds to a large fire in the summer. But if Keizer sees more cases of COVID-19, it may not be possible to keep affected first responders home for two weeks.

“We can’t quarantine our entire fire service,” Storms said.

The department has increased the use of protective equipment on calls to avoid spreading illness, including using masks, gloves and sometimes gowns, she said. They’ve also closed the fire station to the public and canceled all public events and non-emergency duties like installing car seats.

“This is the second patient in Marion County and as of this writing there are three cases in our area. This indicates that the illness is already in our community,” Chief Jeff Cowan wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday night announcing the quarantine.

He implored the community to follow the advice of medical professionals to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, including regular hand-washing.

“This situation is real -and in response to the doubters- it is time to take this more seriously,” Cowan wrote.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander at [email protected] or 503-575-1241.