Responding to the pandemic: Glenwood’s first responders continue to protect and serve despite budget cuts
While working from home has sufficed for some during the COVID-19 crisis, for Glenwood’s first responders, such a luxury was never an option.
Earlier this month, the city announced that all 179 of its full-time employees would be furloughed one day, every other week or have their pay reduced by 10%.
According to Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson, the fire department had been able to maintain necessary staffing levels despite citywide budget cuts.
“We’re able to schedule it out to where it’s only one person, per day, that we’re down,” Tillotson said. “Anecdotally, less people doing less recreational things has definitely caused a downturn in overall call volume up to this point.”
During the early stages of the pandemic, public health entities across the country put forth messaging about when to call a doctor as opposed to 911 for COVID-19 related help.
The messaging, however, may have led to a few unintended consequences — particularly for people exhibiting signs of a stroke or heart attack who mistakenly thought their symptoms were from COVID-19.
“We’re seeing this coming out of other regions that have been hit harder by COVID, is people with stroke symptoms…chest pain, might not be calling,” Tillotson said. “If you think you might be having some heart problems, COVID related or otherwise, don’t hesitate to call 911.”
Despite a few “tense moments” Tillotson said the department had been able to secure enough personal protective equipment for its first responders.
“There are plenty of vendors out there that will advertise (personal protective equipment),” Tillotson said. “What they can’t do is deliver in a timely fashion.”
According to Tillotson, one member from the fire department had to get tested for COVID-19 but the result came back negative.
“They’re keeping their chin up, doing their jobs and they’re just really dedicated people,” Tillotson said. “They obviously got into this profession because they wanted to help people and they continue to want to help.”
Glenwood Springs Police Chief Joseph Deras said the police department was one of the city’s few departments still hiring.
“As a matter of fact, we have a batch of a couple dozen applicants that we are going to be processing here at the end of May,” Deras said.
The department currrently has eight vacant positions, which Deras said he hopes to fill as soon as possible.
However, given the rigorous application process, Deras did not envision filling all of the department’s sworn personnel positions from the current applicant pool.
“The prospects of us hiring even more than a few is not real good,” Deras said.
Like the city’s fire department, Glenwood Springs police officers are also taking a one day furlough but still responding to priority calls.
Calls that don’t involve violence but rather require police reports — generally for insurance purposes — were often being taken over the phone to limit in-person interactions.
Officers were also wearing face coverings and using “extreme discretion” when taking enforcement action Deras explained.
Deras estimated that the department may have experienced a slight decrease in call volume during the COVID-19 crisis but called any such decline “very nominal.”
“We’re still busy,” Deras said.
According to Deras, no officers had tested positive for COVID-19.
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