SEQUIM — In one of their final acts of 2021, Clallam County Fire District 3 commissioners unanimously approved expanding COVID-19 supplemental leave for fire district staff.
The district, which covers part of Jefferson County as well as the east side of Clallam County, has expanded allowable COVID-19 leave from 80 to 120 hours to use if personnel are exposed to the virus or if they test positive.
Fire Chief Ben Andrews told commissioners Dec. 21 that the district originally offered 80 hours of temporary leave to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 exposure and did so without any state or federal reimbursement.
“If there is an exposure, they can stay home and reduce the likelihood of impacting the workforce,” he said in an interview.
While firefighters weren’t testing positive from work exposures, they still had to quarantine for 10 days, with one tour equaling 72 hours.
Fire District staff report that, on average, 22 hours of COVID-19 leave was used per firefighter with only a few of the 41 firefighters actually using it.
With only some staff using the leave, and significant precautions to prevent exposures, Andrews said the district was able to bump up the leave to 120 hours.
“They were burning their own personal leave, and I don’t think that’s particularly fair when it’s a workplace exposure keeping them at home,” Andrews said.
Fire district officials have worked with Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, to determine if firefighters can return to work sooner on a case-by-base basis, he said.
“There’s been no coworker-to-coworker transmission; it’s all been outside of work,” Andrews said. “They’re not getting it from a patient or getting it from us.”
For each patient, firefighters and paramedics/EMTs wear gloves, a surgical mask and eye protection, and if a patient is COVID-19 positive, the first responders wear an N95 mask and coveralls or a gown.
An aerosol procedure and N100 MASK are used in those instances, too, Andrews said.
There have been no staffing issues, he said.
“This (procedure) isn’t new; what we’re doing is working,” Andrews said.
“I’m not panicked.”
Staff are encouraged to stay home if sick, and he hopes the trend continues once the pandemic is over.
Commissioners also unanimously approved the district’s 2021-2024 strategic plan.
Its final version will be available on the district’s website at ccfd3.org in the coming weeks with paper copies available by request by calling 360-683-4242.
Previously, Assistant Fire Chief Dan Orr said the plan breaks down into four areas: service delivery, communication, planning and professional development.
“It’s important for everyone to see where we’re heading,” Orr said.
During the first months of this year, district staff plan to perform an internal study of data, define and evaluate culture of accountability, review maintenance apparatus plan, and track maintenance costs, identify and pursue additional revenue sources, and establish current, accurate position descriptions and tasks for each district position.
Gawley ends term
Outgoing fire commissioner Mike Gawley was honored on Dec. 21 for his service as a volunteer firefighter and commissioner with a certificate and plaque that’s on order.
“It’s been an honor and privilege to be up here,” he said.
“Not all my decisions have been particularly popular, but I felt all the decisions were right. I look forward to coming back occasionally and checking in.”
Volunteer firefighter Jeff Nicholas, who retired in 2008 after serving as a naval submarine officer/captain for 30 years, and retired again in 2017 from working in advanced electro-optic camera systems, was elected in the general election to fill Commissioner Position 1 for six years.
Gawley, a retired Federal Aviation Administration support specialist and computer programmer, said last summer his plan was to focus more on his family and hobbies.
He retired to Sequim in 2005 and became a volunteer firefighter and EMT before being appointed as a fire commissioner in February 2014. Later, he was elected to serve in the position through the end of this year.
Last summer, he said the board’s accomplishments included hiring a new chief, assistant chiefs and additional firefighters and paramedics, upgrading equipment, increasing training and continuing “prudent fiscal management.”
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].