After bedbugs were found in three western Columbus firehouses, fire officials are throwing out infested furniture and reminding firefighters to protect themselves from the biting pests.
In the past few weeks, two or three live bedbugs were found at three firehouses: Station 10 in Franklinton, Station 12 on the West Side and Station 17 on the Hilltop, Battalion Chief Michael Fowler said. All three stations have been visited by bedbug-sniffing dogs.
At Station 17, the bugs were found in the medic truck, which was cleaned and treated. At Station 12, bugs were found on a couch, which was removed along with three mattresses that the dogs hit on. Fowler said he wasn't sure exactly where the bugs were discovered in Station 10.
"They could have come from a run, an EMS or fire run, they could have been brought in by one of the firefighters or from a visitor at the firehouse," Fowler said.
An email sent on Tuesday from Assistant Chief Kent Searle cautioned firefighters to change out of their fatigues before going home and suggested keeping a plastic bag or tote with clean clothes to wear home. He also sent along a link to the Central Ohio Bed Bug Task Force.
Fowler said that as far as he knows, no firefighter has taken the bugs home.
"Right now, it's minor, but we're taking it very seriously because we don't want it to be a problem," he said.
Bedbugs have been on first-responders' radar for years, especially after the Cincinnati fire department had an issue with them back in 2008.
Tammy Green, a Jackson Township fire inspector and member of the Central Ohio Bed Bug Task Force's public-safety committee, has spent the past four years educating fire, police and EMS personnel about how to prevent their firehouse or police station from letting critters in.
Green said that initially she had a hard time persuading firefighters to care about bedbugs. Now, she gets several calls a year from agencies, both within Ohio and elsewhere.
"What do bedbugs have to do with firefighters?" she said. "It has a lot to do with it, because you stay in the station for so many hours."
Something as simple as knowing what the bugs look like can help prevent an infestation, she said. In Jackson Township, all belongings are kept in plastic tubs, beds are covered in mattress pads and there are weekly cleanings and bedbug checks.
Having a bedbug protocol in place is essential, she said. Columbus officials are working on that, Fowler said. This year, a protocol for ambulances was completed.
While they wait for an official directive for the stations, Fowler said, verbal instruction has been given, in addition to the email. Columbus Public Health last conducted training about bedbugs with firefighters in February. Fowler said the Fire Division is talking to vendors about purchasing mattress covers for the 1,000 or so beds in the 32 stations.
"Right now, we're working on the prevention of it and then the eradication of it," he said.