Full gowns. Goggles. And personal protective equipment such as N-95 masks. Those items have now become as much a part of a firefighter’s gear as a helmet, turnout coat, and oxygen tank.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added another hazard to what is already a dangerous job. And now, with another spike in COVID cases nationally, statewide and in Evanston, the Evanston Fire Department is noticing an “uptick in calls” for medical assistance, says Deputy Chief Paul Polop.

Ironically, when the coronavirus first hit back in March, Polop says the department saw a decrease in runs. Many people were afraid to ride in the back of an ambulance or even go to the hospital, for fear of catching COVID.

That drop-off lasted a couple of months, Polop says, before getting back to normal (about 460-560 ambulance runs per month), as those fears lessened.

Besides taking additional gear on medical runs, Polop says firefighters are also taking extra precautions in the firehouse, including wearing masks and social distancing during meals and down time.

“Our members have been very good about this,” Polop says. “They don’t want to take anything home.” Only one Evanston firefighter has contracted COVID since the outbreak began, and it’s unclear whether that was job-related.

Polop says the current COVID numbers “reiterate the fact that it isn’t gone,” and is a “stressful situation” for firefighters. “It has definitely changed the way we are doing business,” he says.

But, Polop adds, “You adapt and overcome.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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