KDPS chief discusses plans to help protect first responders

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kalamazoo County sheriff’s deputy has tested positive for COVID-19 and that brings up a lot of questions about how the virus could affect first responders and what to do to keep them safe.

Sheriff Richard Fuller says only some close friends and family of the deputy had to be quarantined and not the general public.

Chief Karianne Thomas, with the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, says her department has been preparing to handle staffing levels if any officer gets the virus at work or at home.

“We put in our final staffing plan about eight days ago,” Thomas said.

Kalamazoo public safety went to a level one operation Monday morning, which includes assigning officers on special assignments to work on daily calls.

Kalamazoo declared a state of emergency before St. Patrick’s Day weekend in an effort to prevent thousands of college students gathering for an annual off-campus house crawl.

The goal was to protect the community and the police officers who would have had to respond.

“Had those 4,000 to 6,000 students gathered, you know what that would have meant for our community,” Thomas said.

Kalamazoo’s Mayor David Anderson says getting much needed personal protect equipment for first responders is a major concern.

“I’m definitely worried. I know the limited number of masks, for example, we have here at the city, but I’m also worried — I understand folks in health care environments,” Anderson said. “I also know that people who work in homeless shelters are not necessarily getting all the equipment.”

KDPS is trying to only use personal protection equipment when necessary to make it last as long as possible.

The public safety chief is asking the community to notify dispatchers if a person has the virus or has potential exposure. 

“If our officers have the correct PPE on when they make contact, that limits their exposure. That’s one more shift they can come work,” Thomas said.

KDPS says the best way you can protect first responders is not complicated.

“We’re all in this pandemic and this crisis situation together, and we want to make sure our officers are healthy and our families are healthy, and people can help us do that and it’s really easy. Stay home, stay safe,” Thomas said.

KDPS is also the fire department for the city and is normally the first on scene to handle medical calls. The chief says if people stay home that can reduce call volume and keep staffing levels higher to respond to emergencies.