Menlo fire district creates new pandemic response unit | News | Almanac Online |


Menlo fire district creates new pandemic response unit

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In the wake of placing six emergency workers off duty because of possible exposure to the coronavirus, the Menlo Park Fire Protection District now has a Pandemic Emergency Response Unit.

The two-person team will respond to calls of suspected COVID-19 cases, according to a March 21 press release from Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman.

The district recently received seven calls of suspected COVID-19 in one day and expects to see that number go up.

Schapelhouman said that the district will aim to minimize contact with whoever may have COVID-19 while on a call to decrease possible exposure to the disease.

"Captain Paramedic Jason Martin and Engineer Carlos Carpenter became the first two firefighters to staff the Fire District’s new Pandemic Emergency Response Unit (last week)," Schapelhouman wrote in the press release. "Perhaps the first of its kind in the nation, this unit will only respond to all suspected COVID-19 incidents in the Fire District.

"As a result, hopefully only two personnel per day will come into direct contact with suspected COVID-19 patients. Individuals on this specialized unit will be using the highest level of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and personal protective equipment (PPE) on each call, along with minimizing contact time that should help decrease the potential for exposure."

The new team will also be responsible for decontaminating each scene it visits and fire apparatus used on the call to prevent traces of the virus on equipment, clothing and/or the apparatus as outlined by district guidelines, Schapelhouman said.

"We believe that by raising the bar on our personal protective clothing and by putting this new special response unit in place, we can slow or help to hopefully more effectively stop its spread," he said.

Some fire district personnel have volunteered to serve on the unit, he said.

"The number of our off-duty firefighters grew again today, as yet another Menlo Park Firefighter, the seventh, was home sick and scheduled for testing," Schapelhouman wrote in the press release.

"At some point, we know one of our firefighters will contract COVID-19," he added. "Most are not in the risk categories and all are extremely healthy and fit based upon the daily expectations of our profession, but our collective goal is to delay, or stop, the spread for as long as possible."

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16 people like this
Posted by Menlo Fire Supporter
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 24, 2020 at 12:36 pm

Another example of our fire district employing innovative measures to serve our community and keep us safe. Why would we ever think of leaving this department and start our own? Time to drop the misguided effort to leave.

14 people like this
Posted by Sean Ballard
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Mar 24, 2020 at 12:48 pm

Wonderful to see Menlo Fire at the forefront of national emergency response best practices. Kudos to our men and women for being so thoughtful in responding to protect our community and themselves!

4 people like this
Posted by Karen
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 24, 2020 at 1:43 pm

COVID-19 "cases"
COVID-19 "incidents"

What do these two terms mean? Do we call the fire department instead of our health providers for a possible "case", and call the fire department to report an "incident" such as a violation of the shelter-in-place or business closure restrictions?

13 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 24, 2020 at 3:19 pm

Our first responders are the most innovative in the Nation.

We are truly blessed to have these wonderful women and men serving us 24/7/365.

Thank You MPFPD !!!!

9 people like this
Posted by Ken Friedman
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Mar 24, 2020 at 4:05 pm

A great idea.

5 people like this
Posted by Rick Moen
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Mar 26, 2020 at 2:19 pm

Kudos to the District for coming up with this intelligent solution, and my vast respect to the volunteers.

1 person likes this
Posted by HIPPA
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Mar 27, 2020 at 6:41 am

This is really helpful for the neighborhoods who can now tell which houses have COVID-19 when the pandemic response unit shows up!

2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 27, 2020 at 11:39 am

Here is an update from the Fire Chief:

BREAKING NEWS – March 26, 2020
Menlo Park Fire Protection District
COVID 19 – Pandemic Update – Stop the Spread!
Volunteering to be on the Pandemic Emergency Response Unit
The First in the Nation!
Adapt, Improvise, Overcome and Innovate!
Fire Engineer/Paramedic Travis Hooper has been with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District for almost 7 years, prior to that he spent four years in the United States Airforce where he was deployed twice oversees for Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Originally from Virginia, public service runs deep in his family. When he heard the Fire District was re-purposing and moving a two person Rescue Company to help elevate the level of emergency services to the community to address COVID 19 medical incidents, while at the same time creatively attempting to reduce exposures to his fellow firefighters, he volunteered for the assignment.
The Menlo Park Fire Protection District, which provides critical fire and emergency services to its areas in the Town of Atherton, Cities of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, unincorporated San Mateo County and the SLAC National Accelerator and Laboratories, is trying to navigate, prepare and prevent, an unexpected draw down on its most precious resource, its firefighters! Having a singular emergency response unit dedicated to COVID 19 is an out of the box creative strategy supported by its workforce of almost 100 Firefighters, who while primarily serving the general public and community, equally want to protect each other and their own families from getting sick.
Fire Engineer/Paramedic Travis Hooper volunteered to staff the District’s new Pandemic Medical Response Unit (Credit Menlo Fire)
Fire Chief Schapelhouman said “Over the last couple weeks, we have been receiving 1 – 7 dispatch screened suspected COVID 19 incidents per day. The new Pandemic Medical Response Unit went into service just under a week ago and our firefighters have been evolving the concept daily. From decontamination procedures, to how much medical equipment we use, expose and what type of container we carry it in. We are evolving and advancing firefighter safety and functionality on the fly, learning from each medical incident we respond too and constantly improving. Today, I was at the Station as we in real time experimented with using our rain gear compared against a water rescue dry suit which was then compared against a hazardous materials response level B suit. The point and goal was that all of these garments can be easily washed down, decontaminated, blow dried and safely re-used over and over again. That’s critical, we need to adjust to the repetitive demands of a dirty and dynamic field environment that our the Firefighters work in daily, because these type of medical incidents aren’t a one off any more. We are not fixtures of a clinic or hospital setting, the Fire Service is a field fighting force and we need to adapt and adopt a battlefield posture, strategy and adjust our tactics accordingly or be prepared to expose and potentially disable our work force, which I find unacceptable and irresponsible.”
To date, ten Menlo Park firefighters have been off duty, all related to COVID 19 exposures or contacts, some were symptomatic and some were not. All of whom were either tested or quarantined. Seven have been cleared and now returned to work, while three are still waiting for test results. Testing site availability has steadily improved over the last week, as have more timely results and modified and updated CDC guidelines, which have reduced quarantine timelines from 14 days to 7, if symptoms are not present. Fortunately, no personnel have tested positive. That said, most are not in the risk categories and all are extremely healthy and fit based upon the daily expectations of their profession.
Fire Engineer/Paramedic Travis Hooper explains how decontamination equipment is used on the new Pandemic Medical Response Unit (Credit Menlo Fire)
Fire Engineer/Paramedic Hooper wasn’t the only Menlo Park Firefighter to volunteer for this new assignment, but his e-mail was the most compelling ““Chiefs, I would like to volunteer to be placed as the permanent, A-shift, Acting Captain on Rescue 6; or until further notified. After the conference call today, I understand the importance of limiting the exposure to as many Fire District employees as possible. Furthermore, I understand the level of severity of my volunteering action. With that said I have no doubt that I will uphold the Fire Districts requests, demands and recommendations to the highest level”.
“Travis and others pleasantly surprised me but also strengthened my resolve that these collective strategies and pro-active moves must help make us be more successful in protecting and serving the community and the firefighters who are stepping up!. In our profession, you need to quickly adapt, improvise and overcome on the fly and often under dynamic circumstances, you also need to fully support those who are on the front lines of this battle by listening to their ideas, supporting innovative counter measures and letting them know you care about them, their families and the overall cause. One team - One fight, simply stated, lead, follow or get out of the way!” – Fire Chief Schapelhouman said.
Want to meet and talk to Travis?
Friday, March 27th, Travis and his partner will be available (unless on an emergency incident) for interviews and questions, starting at 1.30 pm at Fire Station 6, located at 700 Oak Grove Avenue in Menlo Park. The interviews and demonstrations will be done outdoors and with respect for social distancing to keep everyone safe.
How it works:
Any time a suspected COVID-19 call is reported by Fire Dispatch, or called for by one of the other nine on-duty Captains or two Battalion Chief’s, the Pandemic Emergency Response Unit (Rescue 6) will respond so as to minimize exposures to the rest of the workforce and community. If this unit gets to busy, there are contingency plans, with triggers in place, to add a second and even third similar unit. Thus far, the most calls for COVID-19 the Fire District has had in one day is seven, but that is anticipated to increase.
For updates on local community impacts and emergency operations, please go to our web-site at or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Next Door. This Community information “Dash Board” was specifically established to keep you in the local loop, because local information seems to be in short supply at times, but is critical to you, your families, friends and overall community well-being!
Coming next, we will provide you with the latest information on how your Firefighters are supporting our local dinning establishments by buying take-out meals!
Please contact me with any questions at 650-380-1006.

Thank you!

Harold Schapelhouman
Fire Chief
Menlo Park Fire Protection District | 170 Middlefield Road | Menlo Park, CA 94025 |

Mission Statement: To protect and preserve life and property from the impact of fire, disaster, injury and illness.

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