Response to the coronavirus pandemic has brought about a number of changes in the functioning of city government, and the city fire department is no exception.
The city-owned former armory on Wheeler Avenue, long used as a municipal storage area, now serves as a temporary fire station, in addition to the main one on Court Street and a substation on South Franklin Street.
Normally, the city operates its two fire stations with three people per shift at each station. But in order to keep adequate distance between firefighters and to reduce the risk of an infected firefighter infecting others, the department opened the third station at the armory, said Capt. Michael TenKate. Now two firefighters staff each of the three fire stations.
“It’s being done with the current staffing,” said Chief Wayne Friedman. “The intent is to space our people out to limit that exposure.”
“Even if they are contaminated, we’re not contaminating an entire station of firefighters,” TenKate said.
Friedman said the armory now houses three fire department vehicles — a reserve ladder truck, a fire engine and a pickup truck used primarily for EMS calls.
The fire department has also divided the city into three regions, instead of two, and is using the armory station mainly for calls on the north side of the city, Friedman said.
There’s precedent for using the armory as a fire station. Years ago, when the main fire station was under renovation, the armory temporarily took its place as the main base of operation. But since then, the armory has been used mainly as a storage area.
In the big garage, the fire trucks share space with equipment from the Department of Public Works and an armored police SWAT vehicle, as well as other municipal odds and ends.
But business is not quite as usual, Friedman said. The volume of calls has dropped, and he’s not sure why, other than that a lot of people are at home.
“There’s not a lot of activity,” he said.