On Monday night, the St. Joseph City Council passed a bill that would move $80,000 from Buchanan County’s CARES Act fund to the St. Joseph Fire Department.
The fire department will split the money almost in half to be used for both COVID-related equipment and to pay firefighters who have worked overtime.
A little over $36,000 will be used for personal protection equipment, such as masks, gloves, gowns, sanitary wipes and disinfectant. Some of that money was also used to buy ultraviolet lights for disinfection.
“Some of the things that we requested were our ultraviolet lights for disinfection of the fire stations,” said Bill Lamar, the emergency manager for the St. Joseph Fire Department. “They’re portable, so we can also disinfect or sanitize the fire trucks.”
The state provided PPE equipment at the beginning of the pandemic, but this required firefighters to make trips to Jefferson City and Kansas City to pick it up. They then had to distribute those supplies to surrounding counties.
But this equipment didn’t last, which is why the fire department is spending $36,000 to buy more. The time taken to travel to Jefferson City, Kansas City and other counties also led to overtime.
“We had to basically go and get that (PPE equipment) and then disperse that out to all of the region,” Lamar said. “So all that travel time and expenses of that, that’s what that was reimbursed for.”
The remaining $44,000 is for reimbursement of those overtime costs. The bill passed by City Council also states “the money will be used to cover additional overtime expenses incurred from firefighters who were off due to the Coronavirus or who were required to quarantine because of exposures to the virus.”
“If we have people off that need to be quarantined or needed to isolate, then obviously we need to keep the fire trucks open, so crews might have to come from an overtime shift,” Lamar said. “So the normal three-member crew that might be on a truck. It’s a little more elevated this year, where you might see a member that’s not normally on that truck.”
Public safety institutions, such as fire and police departments, aren’t able to close or work from home, like other businesses. Their job requires constant, physical presence.
The virus has created difficulties, but firefighters and police officers are used to responding to the unknown.
“Well, you have to realize we kind of go into the unknown all of the time, all the calls that we go on,” Lamar said. “We try to protect ourselves on every call that we go on. So it’s (the pandemic) not as strange to us as it might be to other folks.”