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Four Cleveland EMS workers, one firefighter test positive for coronavirus: Mark Naymik reports

Unions seeking space for first responders to quarantine safely away from families.

CLEVELAND — Already first to respond to accidents, fires and shootings -- police officers, firefighters and paramedics are now confronting a new danger.

Four Cleveland EMS workers have tested positive for Covid-19, the Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees says. They now join hundreds of first responders across the country who have gotten sick while helping people who are sick. 

“People in the field are nervous,” C.A.R.E. President Paul Melhuish told 3News. “Instead of worrying about themselves. They are worried about themselves and their family. That is completely different.”

To protect the privacy of members, Melhuish said he can’t discuss the specifics of the cases. He said he is exploring places for its members infected to quarantine away from their families when possible. 

“We are trying to figure out ways to quarantine from their families,” he said. “We are trying to find hotels out there and a way to keep them stable without infecting their own family members.”

But he said some can’t be away from home.

“They are single mothers and fathers,” he said. “We have some taking care of their elderly parents.”

3News has also learned that one Cleveland firefighter has tested positive.

Fran Lally, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 93, would not confirm that one of its members has tested positive. But he said the union and city have been discussing for a month how to safely quarantine first responders.

“One of the biggest things that we have been working on for a month is getting a quarantine facility for members who test positive or who have been exposed to someone who tests positive,” he said.

Lally said that a space is needed, even if it is just to give safety workers time to figure out what to do after testing positive. He said reopening a closed fire station could be one option.

Six Berea firefighters recently tested positive. Their union is not offering updates on the health of the firefighters but says the department remains committed to the community.

“Due to the sensitive nature of this, the privacy of those infected and their families is one of our utmost priorities,” Jim Ryba, President of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1836. "Berea Firefighters Local 1836 continues to be steadfast in our committed, sworn service to the citizens of Berea and surrounding communities in these uncertain times. We are in contact with City of Berea officials daily to facilitate solutions to address member and public safety."

Nationally, statistics compiled by the International Association of Fire Fighters, shows nearly 900 firefighters have Covid-19, forcing nearly 3,000 into quarantine. These numbers do not reflect reporting from all the local unions across the country.  

 “It’s challenging because they are taking all the necessary precautions and still seeing those numbers rise and it's very disheartening,” Lally said.

Melhuish said its members have the needed equipment at the moment and that its members are helping each other mitigate the spread, including frequently disinfecting ambulances and equipment.

Full respirators, known as PAPRs are available to EMS workers for possible Covid-19 responses, but the spacesuit-like masks and coverings take time and put on and limit mobility. EMS workers are wearing surgical masks over the more protective N-95 masks on most routine calls. And sick people are asked to wash their hands when possible before transport.

“We will give people a mask to put on,” he said about those displaying flu-like symptoms.

“This is something unlike we have never seen before," he said. "This is a new threat. It’s scary. It’s being transferred so fast. We can’t see it. We don’t know who has it and doesn’t.”

He warned the public to listen to the advice of healthcare experts.

“The more people quarantine themselves and actually not go out unless they absolutely have to, the faster we can get this over with and get back to normal live again, he said.

Click here for our special coronavirus section.

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