KERN COUNTY, Calif. — There’s been no shortage of challenges for our local fire department this year, but one issue that’s been caused by the pandemic could result in longer waiting times for those who call them for help.
Since day one of the pandemic, the Kern County Fire Department has been taking steps to make sure their firefighters and the people they respond to are as safe as possible. But still, as the number of infections in Kern has grown, so has the number of infected firefighters.
“You hear a lot in the news that this is unprecedented. This is unprecedented for us,” said Dean Bollar, chief deputy of the KCFD.
The Kern County Fire Department is used to facing some pretty big challenges. But this one is a little different.
“We may get to the point where we can’t fully staff all of our fire stations," added Bollar.
Dean Bollar is the Chief Deputy with the Kern County Fire Department, he says because of the pandemic, the number of firefighters available to staff their stations and respond to emergencies is diminishing.
He says 24 firefighters are positive for COVID as of Wednesday, 27 are out taking care of family who has it, another 25 are off-duty due to injury, this is on top of 62 vacant positions, in total, that's more than 30% of their entire staff.
“As things progress, if they get worse, we’ll have to consider browning out stations for short periods of time if we don’t have the staffing,” said Bollar.
Browning out is another way of saying temporary closures. That doesn’t mean you won’t get help, it just means help may take longer to arrive if you’re in an area where a station closes.
“So anybody in that area, they’re still gonna get service, they just might have a longer response time from an adjacent station,” said Bollar.
We reached out to the Bakersfield Fire Department so see if they are in a similar crunch for firefighters, they say it’s been a challenge, but not to the same extent.
“We do have some members out. I don’t have total numbers that are out, but we’re able to fill each and every position every day,” said Michael Walkley, battalion chief, Bakersfield Fire Department.
Both KCFD and BFD have implemented strategies to prevent the spread of the virus while assisting those in need, this includes wearing PPE, and questioning people before having direct contact with them. While KCFD isn’t at a critical point yet, they’re asking for the community's assistance by only calling 911 if you are experiencing a serious medical emergency, that way resources can be preserved.
“Just so we have fire engines and fire trucks available to go to emergencies other than folks that don’t really need to go to the hospital,” said Bollar.
23ABC reached out to Kern Public Health to see how significant firefighter responses are to the county's spread of the virus. They couldn’t give specifics about firefighters but did reiterate that the most common means of spread is from people in your household.