COVID-19 forces changes in wildfire response

Published: May. 29, 2020 at 2:16 PM PDT
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The peak of wildfire season is near and the Reno Fire Department has made changes in how it will respond to wildfires because of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

"We will be changing tactics because what we're finding is we will have less resources available because of the COVID," Seth Williams, a battalion chief with RFD, said.

Williams said more air attacks will be used to knock fires down quickly because of limited manpower.

"Our crews are aware that there may be a limit to personnel on scene so they know they need to take a little bit more safety, more time to get out of the way," he said.

Inmate crews will still be used, but only in a limited capacity.

"They're not using inmate crews to do a whole lot of preparation work but using the inmate crews for actual suppression efforts so they will be out, they will exist but with certain limitations," Williams said.

Firefighters have added protections and protocols to keep them safe while on a fire. They will practice social distancing from other crews and wear masks and PPE. There will also be temperature checks before they leave and when they return.

"We're going to have to prescreen before we leave, prescreen before we come home, deep cleaning the rigs on a daily basis and talks about spike camps so more isolation per resource," Chris Mason, a firefighter with RFD, said.

Firefighters will also have the option to opt out of fighting wildfires this year because of the coronavirus.

"Say you've got a high risk person at home, and you want to minimize your risk of coming into contact with someone who has COVID, you have the option of not going on these fires and staying home," Williams said.

Willams said these new procedures are not only to keep communities safe from wildfires but crews safe from the virus.

"If we can knock it down early, we put less people at risk, and less resources going out of state that could be impacted by COVID," he said.

Copyright KOLO-TV 2020

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