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Saturday, April 20, 2024

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First responders work on in harm’s way

The city’s first responders are facing a new enemy in the form of the COVID-19 virus, a threat that is invisible to the naked eye and as lethal as any weapon. That puts these vital public servants on the front lines of possibly contracting the virus while serving and protecting citizens.


Sgt. Chris Price, president of the Afro-American Police Association, said police officers, firefighters and other first responders are the tip of the spear in the fight to contain the virus, but some of his members feel they are not given enough in the way of protection.

“Here is the thing,” Price said. “I understand the test kits are costly, but usually your first responders are taken care of. This time that hasn’t happened.

“They (police officers) are washing out their (own patrol) cars and washing their hands,” he said. “I just hope when this is all over, they will be recognized for the risks they are taking.”

Price said it is a heavy weight to carry in addition to the other dangers a police officer faces.

“My wife and children don’t understand it, they just know I’m in harm’s way,” he said.

The city, Price said, should “go above and beyond” its normal operating procedure to protect first responders just as police officers are being asked to in fighting this pandemic.

Price said officers are not given enough Clorox wipes and Lysol spray and added, “we should have been more prepared.”

He said the thermometers that are used to test people as they come into the police academy, where he is now assigned, are not accurate enough and they need better equipment for testing for the virus.

Mike Williams, president of the Memphis Police Association, said he has been assured additional masks and other equipment have been ordered.

“We do understand there is a shortage of everything,” he said. “We all have to come to the table and do what we can to make this work.”

Williams said his association has chipped in by buying hand sanitizers and other cleaning supplies.

As far the city, Williams thinks they are doing, “what they can, but there has been a strain on the system.”

He said officers use their own judgment on when and how to use the cleaning supplies.

“It’s a hazard regardless of what we do,” Williams said. “We definitely have a lot of officers who are concerned.”

Officer Louis Brownlee, spokesman for the Police Department, said, “Officers are being reminded of proper healthcare guidelines that has been shared with our department by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).”

Thomas Malone, president of the Memphis Firefighters Association, said the department gives firefighters and paramedics masks, gloves and, in some cases, gowns.

“We think we are 99 percent covered, if they wear what we give them,” he said.

He said about 100 firefighters are in quarantine, each for a period of 14 days.

Joan Carr, public information officer for the Shelby County Health Department, said that as the numbers go up, “It’s a sign that the virus is spreading in the community.”

Carr said it is her understanding that Memphis does not have the shortages that some other communities have in the form of personal equipment for first responders and that Memphis is receiving equipment from the National Strategic Stockpile.

“I think Shelby County has taken a proactive approach,” Carr said.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has ordered citizens to stay home and nonessential businesses to close as a way to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris issued a similar order.

Public facilities, including the Shelby County Jail, are restricting or totally banning the public’s access.

Capt. Anthony Buckner, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department, said, for example, visitation is only allowed at the main jail at 201 Poplar and at Jail East for people age 18 and above.

He said visitation has been suspended for the Juvenile Court facility for all visitors until further notice. Juveniles can still stay in contact with their families through free phone calls. Attorneys can still visit their clients through video conferencing. That is according to a Twitter release.

Buckner said there are 2,012 inmates in the County Jail and that the jail can hold up to 2,800 inmates.

“We’re always dealing with people who have communicable diseases,” he said, adding that deputies are trained to “think smart and think cautiously” when it comes to safety.

Buckner said there has been about a 15 percent drop in crime in the last four weeks.

“I am assuming with people reducing their movements they are at home more, that means it’s more difficult for burglars and thieves,” he said.


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