With COVID-19 cases spiking across Michigan (and the U.S.), the fire and police department in Troy have been forced to be more mindful of where to expend their limited resources in addition to implementing new protocols to ensure the safety of its firefighters and police officers.
“Just with the way our system operates, we are usually only having one person in the (firetruck) at a time, ”said Lt. Dan Mahrle of the Troy Fire Department. “Other firefighters will actually take their personal vehicles to the scene, so that helps us out a little bit.”
Mahrle said that since the Troy Fire Department contracts out local emergency service calls (car accidents, medical distress, etc.) to Alliance Mobile Health when medical emergencies occur in Troy, firefighters have been fortunate since they aren’t directly dealing with COVID-19 positive members of the community.
A new training program for firefighters
The Troy Fire Department, which consists of 180 volunteer firefighters and 11 tenured paid staff members across six stations, is the largest volunteer firefighter unit in the state of Michigan. As such, during the pandemic, those 11 paid staff members, including Lt. Mahrle, were forced to put their heads together and come up with a new training program to allow for new volunteer firefighters to understand the risks of the virus.
“We were right in the middle of an academy when the shutdowns took place, so we had to kind of put that on hold,” said Mahrle. “Once things started to level out, and the numbers started to go down, we were able to work with the state to get that academy back up and running.”
In addition to reintroducing training classes to these volunteer firefighters, Mahrle confirmed that the fire department had started to resume in-person training classes after months of online-only class sessions.
He also confirmed that the fire department saw a rise in home cooking fires since more people were cooking at home during the pandemic instead of eating out.
Sanitizing commonly used equipment and keeping track of gear has been another central point of emphasis for the day-to-day firefighters who are in the fire station.
“Everything that everybody touches is cleaned and sanitized every time we get done whether the pandemic was there or not,” said Chuck Riesterer, Troy Fire Marshal and Asst. Fire Chief. “Each of the firefighters is issued their own mask, so it’s not like somebody wears one and then gives it to somebody else.”
To enforce or not to enforce?
The idea of a nationwide mask mandate is a hotly-debated issue right now. Currently, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has mandated that all businesses and restaurants require customers to wear a mask when inside of the establishment. This has created an interesting dilemma for members of the Troy Police Department.
“As far as us going out and looking to wrap people up in some sort of frivolous (issue) … we are not out here pursuing mask laws,“ said Meghan Lehman, a sergeant within the Troy Police Department.
Lehman said the Police Department is more focused on matters of public safety than potential mask wearing violations.
“We don’t ask them (a person who was pulled over) to wear a mask during a traffic stop, ”said Lehman. “When we are doing traffic stops, especially now, we are looking for accident-causing offenses and serious offenses that are a public safety violation. That’s our primary concern.”
While officers wear masks when interacting with citizens during a traffic stop or an arrest, there is no existing law that requires them to wear a mask. Officers are not allowed to force a person who is being detained or pulled over to put on a mask, even considering the fact that officers are often interacting with people in close proximity.
The pandemic has also caused the police and fire department to cancel several of their local community outreach events this year.
Things are slowly returning to normal for police officers and firefighters throughout Troy. Despite this, both departments will be maintaining social distancing measures, monitoring equipment usage, expending their resources judiciously and keeping a stockpile of needed PPE instruments for a long time to come.