A Look Inside How the Wilmington (NC) Fire Department Navigated the Pandemic

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Jonathan Haynes

Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.

(MCT)

The Wilmington Fire Department reported fewer calls after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We saw a decrease in call volume that correlated with the stay home orders and COVID 19,” said Rebekah Thurston, Wilmington Fire Department spokeswoman.

She added that fire department EMS were not exposed to the potential increase in health-related calls due to a county arrangement.

“We did not see a rise in EMS calls like we thought we may since, with the pandemic, there would likely be more health crises happening,” she said. “The county put protocols in place so that non-fire EMS could respond to health crises.”

Overall, the fire department fared well during a year in which many public safety hazards spiked. With nearly two dozen homicides, 2020 proved to be one of Wilmington’s most violent years on record.

Thurston said the department avoided clusters, despite challenges with social distancing. Since firefighters must travel together in firetrucks and enter homes to assist callers, social distancing is often not possible.

However, the Wilmington Fire Department required staff to wear face coverings and made sure to distance bunks where firefighters shared rooms. Some fire stations, like the department’s Market Street headquarters, have individual bunk rooms.

They also shifted operations to reduce spread among staff.

In-person meetings were moved online and community events were cancelled. For example, the department cancelled the annual Eric Lacewell Memorial Golf Tournament fundraiser for its charitable foundation.

Additionally, the department was able to conduct virtual home inspections for foster care facilities, and fewer staff were sent to out-of-town training.

Thurston was optimistic about operations for the coming year.

“We haven’t had anything of this scale before so we had to learn to quickly adapt and overcome the obstacles it (threw) our way,” she said, referring to the pandemic. “We understand we will continue to deal with pandemic for the next several months at least, so we plan to find new and innovative ways to serve the public.”

Reporter Jonathan Haynes can be reached at 910-343-2339 or jhaynes@starnewsonline.com.

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