UPDATED: Hoboken fire chief details FD’s COVID-19 struggles, calls on state to change disclosure rules

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Hoboken Fire Chief Brian Crimmins detailed the department’s COVID-19 struggles during last night’s remote city council meeting, calling on the state to change patient disclosure rules so that all first responders can be adequately prepared. By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“Thank you every member of the fire department for your hard work, for you dedication and bravery during this crisis. Thank you for taking an oath of office to protect your community,” Fire Chief Brian Crimmins said at last night’s meeting.

“Thank you for responding to medical calls and reusing N-95 masks for knowingly and selflessly exposing yourself to COVID-19. Thank you for coming to work despite pending layoffs and demotions. Thank you for telling me how concerned you are about potentially bringing the virus home to your families.”

Crimmins added that while the department is doing all they can to disinfect trucks and fire houses, as well as practice social distancing when possible, “we’re building an airplane as we’re flying it” since they have never encountered a public health emergency like the coronavirus before.

He also said PPEs are running low, hence N-95 masks being reused, and that he has wrote to the New Jersey Department of Health to consider releasing COVID-19 patient addresses to all first responders.

“I drafted a letter, and sent a letter, to the state commissioner of health requesting COVID patient addresses to be released to fire departments and EMS agencies. They are currently released to police departments, and I applaud that,” Crimmins explained.

“However, we would like them released to fire departments as well since we wear multiple layers of PPE to the different incidents that we respond to and we need to make sure we have the correct PPE when we respond to emergencies.”

Despite the challenges, the fire chief said that only one dispatcher has tested positive for the coronavirus and that over 90 percent of the department is still working.

Crimmins also called the health department great partners during these times of hardship, noting that this is a problem on the state level.

“This has nothing to do with the City of Hoboken, or even Hudson County: I’ve addressed my request specifically to the state commissioner of health. Quite frankly, I don’t know that they understand the concerns that we have, that fire and police departments have separate CAD – computer-aided dispatch systems … so there is some difficulty in relaying information back and forth.”

On Friday, March 27th, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal signed a directive involving the appropriate use of COVID-19 information from public health officers.

“All state, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies responsible for enforcing criminal laws in New Jersey shall receive COVID-19 information through their respective County OEM, which will input information into the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system,” the order says, noting that firefighters and EMTs are included.

A subsequent memo from the NJ DOH, effective as of March 28th, also says that firefighters are entitled to this information.

“The single point of contact at County OEM will use this location information to enter a
confidential flag in the CAD system that can be shared with local law enforcement, Emergency Medical Services, Fire-Fighters and Department of Children and Families Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) as authorized by the Commissioner of Health in this memorandum and corresponding Attorney General Directive,” the memo says.

Crimmins indicated that the fire department had to receive information about coronavirus patients by calling police dispatch as they’re responding to a call for service.

Furthermore, New Jersey State Police Col. Patrick Callahan said during a press conference yesterday that he expects changes to come to address lag times for first responders.

“I think it needs to be reassessed: the idea that the central repository is the county [OEM] … is creating that lag time that we’re going to address in very short order,” he said.

As of Friday morning, Crimmins said this matter is still ongoing and that the HFD is yet to receive a list of COVID-19 patient addresses.

 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.