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Multiple times every day, firefighters and paramedics in the West Valley are exposed to patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, or later will test positive.

Yet the number of first responders who themselves test positive is strikingly low.

As president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona, Bryan Jeffries represents 7,000 first responders. He estimates fewer than 300 of them have become sick and/or tested positive for COVID-19.

“That’s not bad,” he said.

He said the reason first responders are not getting sick can be summarized in three words: personal protective equipment.

“The PPE works,” he said. “This masks debate just blows my mind.”

Aaron Glass, battalion chief of the Avondale Fire and Medical Department, agreed PPE is keeping his troops safe.

“We have been very lucky and have had a very low number for COVID-19 positive personnel here—knock on wood,” Glass said. 

And, Glass added, the volume of emergency calls has been unusually high.

“The first two weeks in July were some of the busiest we have had on record—which coincides with the state’s spike in COVID-19 positive tests. Fortunately, our call volume is returning to normal levels,” Glass said.

“We continue to respond to about two to four possible COVID-19 calls per day. Our crews are in good spirits; are wearing masks and practicing social distancing when and where required; and decontaminating apparatus, equipment and stations on a regular basis.”

All of this as temperatures have soared over 115 degrees.

“The extreme heat makes everything more challenging,” Glass said.

Goodyear Fire Department Chief Paul Luizzi agreed: “The heat definitely makes it challenging for any type of calls that we go on. We really want to make sure our crews are staying well hydrated and protecting themselves as much as they can from the heat.”

He said the protective equipment and cleaning has been key.

“Our department continues to stay healthy during this difficult time; we are very fortunate for that,” Luizzi said. “I sincerely hope that it was because we put in some protective measures very early. 

“For example, our support services group developed some handheld sprayers, which they made on their own, so that crews could decontaminate their equipment right after the call was completed. We have also have had some great PPE donations from our citizens, businesses and civic groups that have kept us well stocked.”

At the Buckeye Police Department, spokeswoman Donna Rossi said four have tested positive for COVID-19—out of 140 employees.

Despite the brutal heat, “the officers are holding up well. They are taking every precaution necessary to maintain their health, the health of the public and the health of those they come in contact with,” Rossi said.

“The officers are using masks when they interact with the public when social distancing is not possible. They are disinfecting before and after shifts. ... We are in a good place where the COVID-19 situation is concerned given the amount of people we come in contact with.”

Despite frequently treating COVID-19 patients and transporting them to hospitals, Jeffries of the firefighters union said his membership “have had very few hospitalizations.

“Once we got past a shortage of PPE, we were able to secure a lot of PPE,” he said. “Our members have been exceptional about wearing the same stuff staff in hospitals do on calls—the shields, the masks, gowns, foot coverings.”

And, he added, the public has been cautious and respectful about emergency responders.

“We’ve had good experiences showing up at people’s homes who are wearing masks—or, when we come to the door, they’ll ask if we want them to put a mask on.”

His message to the public: Masks work—and firefighters are proving it.

“It is definitely not as comfortable to wear all the PPE when it’s hot out. But that comes with the job,” Jeffries said.

“It’s definitely causing discomfort, but we have to do that. We can’t compromise our safety or our patients’ safety.”