Area first responders could be exposed to the spreading coronavirus if they don’t take precautions.

Alexander City fire chief Reese McAlister fears if one of his firefighters contracted COVID-19 it could be devastating to the Alexander City Fire Department. McAlister said EMTs and firefighters are taking extra precautions.

“We realized if somebody contracted it, it could cripple us,” McAlister said. “We have three shifts and they work in close proximity to each other.”

In an effort to prevent his personnel from contracting COVID-19, McAlister said the department and its employees are taking extra steps.

“We have set up hot ambulances,” McAlister said. “They have extra PPE (personal protective equipment).”

McAlister said with proper procedures, his department can safely handle a person who has contracted the coronavirus.

“If you wear the proper PPE in the proper way and dispose of it properly you can treat a positive coronavirus patient,” McAlister said. “If you fail to wear it properly, you put yourself at risk.”

McAlister said the department is good on supplies with shipments from the Alabama Department of Public Health and the fire department’s regional association.

McAlister said other measures are being taken as EMTs and firefighters come in to work.

“We are requiring everyone to have their temperatures taken and answer questions,” McAlister said. “We are screening everyone. We are reporting this to the nursing homes since we have to run calls to them on a regular basis.”

McAlister said more efforts are being made to make sure members of his department don’t come into contact with COVID-19 inside the fire department’s two fire stations.

“We are doing the extra things — wiping door knobs, counters and tables with antibacterial wipes especially as a new shift comes into the stations,” McAlister said. “We are practicing social distancing. We are doing our part.”

Emergency dispatchers play a role in the department’s proper response.

“They do a great job in relating patient information to us,” McAlister said. “It’s information we can use to assess what precautions we need to take before we get on a scene. It’s very important callers tell dispatchers what they are experiencing. Our people are standing farther away when they get on scene and assessing things, getting patient information, more than normal just in case. Everyone needs to use common sense when to call. Only call in an emergency.”

McAlister said the department is having daily meetings with other first responders and area medical personnel.

“We meet every morning with incident command at Russell Medical relaying changes the department is making,” McAlister said. “Our relationship has grown tremendously during this time.”

Ultimately McAlister doesn’t want to see one of his people contract the coronavirus.

“I’m scared to death it will get into the stations,” McAlister said. “If it does, it will be crippling. We are doing everything we can to keep it from happening.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.