The Augusta Fire Department’s Tower 1 fire truck is shown May 25, 2017, at the North Station No. 3.

Aside from the firefighter-paramedic who was hospitalized last week with COVID-19, the other 50 members of the Augusta Fire Department have tested negative for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Over the past five days, every employee of the department — including firefighter-paramedics, administrative and command staff, and the department’s mechanic — has been tested for COVID-19, and each test has come back negative.

A city firefighter-paramedic, according to Roger Audette, fire chief and emergency management director for the city, tested positive May 5 for COVID-19, prompting five other staff members who worked with that individual to be placed in quarantine as a precaution.

The paramedic was hospitalized May 3 after feeling ill and was released May 6. Audette declined to identify the paramedic by name or gender.

Five other firefighter-paramedics, who worked with the paramedic at the city’s North Station, were placed on a 14-day quarantine, and remain so this week. They were among those who tested negative for COVID-19.

The firefighter who tested positive is also still in quarantine and doing well, according to Audette.

Audette said the firefighters will be quarantined for about another seven days, including the one who tested positive. He said they may be retested before they come back to work.

The absence of six firefighter-paramedics will not impact the Fire Department’s ability to respond to emergencies, Audette said. It is expected to result in increased overtime, however, as other members of the department fill additional shifts.

Audette said a city firefighter’s testing positive for the coronavirus should not deter the public from calling 911 if emergency assistance is needed.

Audette said the Fire Department is not sure how one of its firefighters became infected with COVID-19, and that is not something officials are investigating.

He said members of the department have responded to many calls that required they wear personal protective equipment to prevent possible exposure to the coronavirus.

“Our biggest priority,” Audette said, “is to make sure we’ve mitigated this event, and at this point it looks like we’ve done that.”

He also expressed appreciation on behalf of the department for the kind words and support from members of the community and other firefighters from the area and throughout Maine.

Fire Department officials have determined three patients had limited contact with the paramedic who has tested positive. Those patients have been identified and were expected to be contacted by the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

Robert Long, a spokesperson for the Maine CDC, said individuals determined to have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 are given information about the virus and told to quarantine for 14 days.

Asked whether the three patients had been tested and whether they had COVID-19, Long said privacy laws prevent the Maine CDC and others from releasing information about individual patients. He said state CDC officials “are gratified that testing of Augusta first responders yielded negative results and thank them for their service.”

The firefighter who tested positive for the coronavirus is the city’s first to contract the disease. Health care workers face a greater likelihood of exposure to coronavirus than the general public, according to public health experts.

On Tuesday, the Maine CDC said the number of positive cases in the state had risen to 1,477, while 913 people have recovered, an increase of 41 recoveries since Monday. Active cases dropped from 525 on Monday to 499 on Tuesday.

Audette said several steps have been taken since the Fire Department learned one of its firefighter had tested positive. The North Augusta Fire Station was immediately closed and cleaned by a private contractor, in accordance with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and an investigation is underway to identify those with whom the infected firefighter has had contact.

In addition, all Fire Department employees were notified of the positive test, and all trucks, which Audette said are already cleaned daily, were cleaned again. And the department’s medical director, Dr. Tim Pieh, and others are working closely with the Maine CDC and Maine Emergency Medical Services.

Audette said firefighters understand there is significant risk to their health and safety because they are constantly dealing with the public, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said no one at the department has expressed reluctance to respond to calls that could mean exposure to the coronavirus.

“They’re doing such an amazing job,” Audette said. “They’re in it to protect employees, follow their oath and serve the public.”

Audette said firefighter-paramedics at the North Station do not come into contact with the crews at Hartford Station, which is the department’s headquarters, or other smaller stations on Bangor Street or Western Avenue. He added that those crews were spread out to limit employee-to-employee contact.

North Station was closed the morning of May 5 after the positive test result was received, according to Audette. The station was cleaned overnight and reopened the next morning.

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