December 5, 2021

Homer firefighter gets virus

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Homer Fire Station on South Main Street in Homer in this Cortland Standard file Photo

A Homer firefighter has tested positive for COVID-19 and has gone into self-isolation, said Homer Fire Chief Mahlon Irish Jr.

The firefighter, who was not named, told the chief through text message Wednesday morning that he had tested positive for the virus, Irish said. The firefighter, who also works at Pyrotek in Cortland, was tested Saturday and did not get the results back until Wednesday.

Pyrotek closed Friday after it reported two positive cases of the coronavirus.

The firefighter told Irish that he, the firefighter, thought he might have gotten the virus from a co-worker at Pyrotek who also tested positive Wednesday morning, Irish said.

A representative from Pyrotek could not be reached Wednesday afternoon.

The firefighter, though, was not in contact with anyone seeking medical assistance since the middle of March, Irish said. All emergency medical service calls have been handled by ambulance companies like TLC Emergency Medical Services.

Homer’s firefighters will still respond to calls, but the Homer fire station will be closed for two weeks, Irish said.

Before the closing, the department had made sure to take everyone’s temperature who entered the station and advised anyone who was sick or feeling sick to stay home. Hand sanitizer was widely available and the station deep-cleaned every other day, Irish said.

“We’ve taken as many precautions as we know,” he said.

Irish said the firefighter showed no symptoms before testing positive.

The department had meetings planned Wednesday afternoon with the village’s administration and the fire departments in Cortland and Cortlandville on questions regarding testing, including who is responsible for testing and how many people need to be tested.

There are “so many things we’re trying to work out here,” Irish said. “It’s all new to everybody.”

Homer Mayor Darren “Hal” McCabe announced the positive case Wednesday during a conference where county department heads explained how they were handling work during the virus.

McCabe and Cortland Police Chief F. Michael Catalano asked how first responders could get rapid testing done if they think they’ve been exposed.

“At this point, there is only a mechanism in place for rapid response testing through the Wadsworth lab in Albany for very specific cases,” said Catherine Feuerherm, the county health director. “At this point, Albany is saying commercial labs have almost as quick as a turnaround time.”

However, she added the county can ask for expedited results in cases where there could be a high chance of exposure to high-risk individuals.

County Legislature Chairman Paul Heider added that communities must be careful testing whole departments; everyone who is tested must self-quarantine while awaiting results, deeply reducing the number of people available to respond to an emergency.