Call volumes increase for Mehlville Fire District, but not due to COVID-19

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Mehlville Fire Protection District critical-care paramedics, in a photo provided by the fire district.

By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

The Mehlville Fire Protection District’s call volume is increasing, but not because of increased COVID-19 calls.

In a COVID-19 update at the MFPD Board of Directors meeting held Aug. 26, Chief Brian Hendricks said that the district’s call volume has been increasing to pre-COVID numbers but not due to any significant increases in COVID-related calls.

Unlike most other South County boards which are still holding their meetings virtually, the Mehlville fire board has been meeting in person throughout the pandemic, without as many employees attending.

“I feel that with things opening up … we’re starting to see our call volume tick back up. If you remember back when we were in the midst of swimming in the COVID river in the beginning of this, our call volume actually went down,” said Hendricks. “I believe that was because of fear of going to the hospital … the focus on staying out of the hospital unless you absolutely have to go. I think that … has waned a little bit.”

Hendricks added as of the time of his update, the district currently had four firefighters test positive for COVID-19, but none of the positives had come because of occupational exposure. All four employees were set to wrap up their quarantines and return to work by that weekend.

“There’s a different vital bug that’s going around .. but because it has some similarities (with coronavirus) we’ve had a lot of people tested … but they all come back negative,” said Hendricks. “So there’s another nasally bug that’s going around that’s causing some people to be off. But no hospitalizations, no complications.”

Despite having positive COVID cases and employees out due to quarantine, the MFPD has been able to weather the COVID-19 crisis without any kind of reduction in service because of the district’s large size. In comparison, the Lemay Fire Protection District, which operates out of one station on Telegraph Road, had to quarantine all its firefighters in August after one tested positive all crews had contact with the positive case. MFPD and the Affton Fire Protection District took calls for Lemay while the Lemay crews quarantined.

Mehlville crews continue to socially distance in engine houses when possible, wear masks in common areas and disinfect their rooms at the end of every shift. Engine houses are “deconned” or decontaminated with disinfecting UV blue lights — the district has three portable UV lamps that move around the district daily.

“We’re … doing everything to follow all the protocols to keep everything as clean and sanitary as we can,” Hendricks said.

The district also has an ample supply of personal protection equipment, or PPE, for at least the next six months, as well as all the supplies that “we need to keep everything disinfected and safe.”

While nursing homes were the center of multiple outbreaks at the beginning of the pandemic, Hendricks said that recently there has not been any significant uptick in COVID-19 patients at nursing homes.

“Now is that because they are transferring them out before calling us? I don’t know. But hospitalizations are down. You hate to say, ‘Did it already kinda go through a lot of the nursing homes?’” said Hendrix. “We’re not seeing any significant increase in calls to nursing homes. … In the beginning it was pretty stressful. Now it’s been going on for so long, for lack of a better term it’s just a regular EMS call. There isn’t the panic, no one’s frantic any more. People are used to wearing the PPE.”