City Aiming to Protect Emergency Service Workers in East Lansing

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Raymond Holt for ELi

Lt.. Bill Sedlacek operates the controls of ELFD's new bucket truck.

Following Mayor Ruth Beier’s declaration of a state of emergency, the City of East Lansing scaled back its services in an effort to protect both its workers and residents. But the very nature of work for first responders means they are still on the front lines of helping the East Lansing community.

What is being done to keep them safe?

As with everyone else, the goal is to limit their exposure to COVID-19. This week, the City announced that it has suspended the issuance of any new permits or use of any existing permits for recreational fires, including firepits. (This doesn’t include gas or charcoal cooking grills.) This is the kind of measure that can be taken to reduce the odds police or fire will have to interact with members of the public in a way that might transmit disease.

The City has taken other steps to try to reduce person-to-person contact.

ELPD is housed within City Hall, and “closure of the buildings, specifically City Hall, also was done to protect our police from potential exposure by reducing the number of people coming in and out of the building,” explains Mikell Frey, the City of East Lansing’s Communications Coordinator.

When the City of East Lansing implemented plans for its state of emergency, many workers were told to work remotely or were sent home. Those who were sent home and could not work remotely were promised pay for the time that they were scheduled to work.

But according to Interim Police Chief Steve Gonzalez, very few ELPD members have been able to work remotely “due to the nature of our responsibilities.” That said, “department shifts, reporting hours, and work days have been altered to limit cross exposure.”

ELPD has also suspended face-to-face services from the Records Bureau and has changed how some non-emergency calls are handled. In some cases, officers now follow up with a phone call instead of an in-person visit. Meetings have been cancelled or moved to remote platforms.

Fire Chief Randy Talifarro told ELi that ELFD is also taking measures to reduce contact between East Lansing’s firefighter-paramedics and the public beyond the suspension of recreational fire permits.

According to Talifarro, ELFD “temporarily suspended or reduced all non-essential services, such as fire prevention public outreach, CPR classes and physical inspections for construction.” Inspections deemed necessary will continue.

When ELFD does go to homes, paramedics wear minimal PPE, as this saves equipment for when it is needed. If they suspect that they are responding to a call where someone might have COVID-19, paramedics wear additional PPE.  

Both ELPD and ELFD are also taking extra steps to sanitize workplaces.

ELPD is “cleaning high touch surfaces regularly with disinfectant wipes.” It also is using a “misting” system to disinfect patrol cars.

ELFD is cleaning its stations twice a day and its equipment after every call.

Both departments have also followed the directive from Ingham County Health Department to screen workers for COVID-19. Three ELFD workers have been referred for COVID-19 tests based on their screenings. To date, no ELPD or ELFD workers have tested positive for COVID-19.

East Lansing residents should always call 911 in an emergency, but they should think twice before requesting any non-emergency services at this time.

ELi has a special section dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for East Lansing. See it here and sign up for ELi’s mailer to stay informed.

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