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Boardman firefighters back to work at full capacity

After a COVID-19 scare that left them operating for an extended period with less than half of their crew, Boardman Fire Department is back to full capacity.
Mark Pitzer2
Boardman fire Chief Mark Pitzer

BOARDMAN — After a COVID-19 scare that left it operating for an extended period with less than half of its normal crew, the Boardman Fire Department is back to full capacity.

On Nov. 11, 12 firefighters had tested positive for the coronavirus, and another 13 were quarantined after exposures, leaving a team of about 10. The department stopped responding to medical calls to ensure they had enough staff to fight fires. 

The department is back to responding to medical calls as of Friday, said fire Chief Mark Pitzer. 

"It was a challenge," said Pitzer. "Our firefighters were able to manage and put in the extra time. Those who were not quarantining and feeling OK to go to work made sure our stations were staffed."

The department is continuing to implement guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding masking and social distancing to help prevent exposure and spread. 

"Operationally, we've been kind of doing the same thing since March," said Pitzer. "I mean there's really nothing more that we can do. 

"We can't wear bubble suits out there."

The department was unable to pinpoint how so many firefighters were infected and exposed.

For a department running 12 calls a day and also continuing to live their lives outside of work, the exposures could have happened anywhere, said Pitzer. It's especially difficult since symptoms for flu, colds and allergies overlap with COVID-19 symptoms. 

Coming up on Thanksgiving, Pitzer said it's not really his place to tell his staff what they can do in their personal lives. 

"it's not my job to micromanage their personal lives," said Pitzer. "All I can do as a chief is recommend to comply with the guidance that has been given by the CDC."