First responders in Florissant adapt to the challenges presented during the COVID-19 outbreak

By Charlotte Beard

First Responders in the Florissant community have sought various ways to address the added challenges of protecting and serving citizens during the pandemic.

“The public has been very understanding,” stated Chief of Police Timothy Fagan for the Florissant Police Department. “We are a department that encourages a lot of interaction between our officers and the public. This is a strange time because (the) officer may not be as friendly as he or she once was, but that is just as a precaution to try maintaining the recommended guidelines. We hope (the community) is patient with us during this time. Nothing has changed for us on our end; I want to make sure that the public knows we are here for them.”

One of the first things the Florissant police administration has had to ensure is the internal safety among its officers while yet addressing day-to-day operations.

“We’re fortunate that we have two different buildings where we have police officers,” stated Fagan. “We have our main headquarters at the main police department on North Hwy 67, but now we also have our Justice Center, which houses a good deal of our police officers on Washington in the former Dick Weber building. The first thing that we realized early on is that we do have a good separation of a good deal of our people, so we’re able to keep folks operating out of separate buildings. In the terrible chance that we have somebody that is exposed, at least (we’ll) have a good segment of our department in a separate building in a separate location altogether. So, that was an initial positive and we’re making sure we maintain those two different buildings with those two different groups of folks. Internally we’ve done a couple of different things as well, as far as just the handling of day-to-day activities. Typically, at the beginning of every shift we would hold the roll call with our officers – we would get the entire platoon together as well as the supervisory staff, they would have a brief meeting. (Currently), we stagger that roll call; (we) bring half of them in it at one time and 45 minutes later (we) bring the other half of that platoon in. The idea there is (that) we don’t have officers changing cars and coming on and off duty all at the same time. So, we don’t have a big group of folks together at the same time.”

To further accommodate this change at the two facilities, Fagan shared that Florissant has begun using Zoom to conduct virtual roll calls. 

“So, we’re still having some interaction between the supervisors and the patrol staff, but it’s not putting a group of folks together in close proximity in a room.”

For safety or emergency reasons, Florissant police officers are responding to calls for sick cases, but they are not entering residences or businesses unless requested to do so by emergency medical professionals. Fagan shared that both the Florissant Valley Fire Protection District and Black Jack Fire Protection District receive dispatches at the same time as the Florissant Police Department, however the department is leaving medical calls to the protection districts. He also stated that because nursing homes consist of the higher risk population, the department is following similar measures to limit exposure to the possibility of the corona virus.

“Obviously, if they have an emergency (due to) violence or a fire (for example),” stated Fagan, “of course the department is going to respond as we always have, but on the smaller calls or the sick case calls, again, we’re going to let the emergency medical staff handle that and we’re going to try to keep our officers outside of those facilities.”

Fagan also states that for the health of the public and police officers, the department is trying to handle some calls by phone that may involve a request for legal advice or home visits. For some minor offences (i.e., license plate theft), the department will still dispatch an officer to the location of the reporting party.

“We’re a profession that can’t take days off and we can’t work from home; we need to be here when the public needs us,” stated Fagan. “So, we are trying our best to come up with some strategies to keep as many of these folks working as we possibly can.”

For citizens who may need to file a police report, Fagan recommends for the safety of the public’s health that they call the station prior to visiting the station. However, there are cases that will prevent some individuals from opting to call first; Fagan stated that those individuals will receive help. He also explained that some circumstances will yet require an officer to visit a residence or business after filing a report. The department has strategies in place to retain as much social distancing as possible. In the case of officers having to confront a crime-related incident, they are equipped with personal protection equipment (PPE).

“’Business as usual’ is really what is going on with a lot of extra precautions built in place. We’re still (going to) be there for the residences.”   

Last month, the Fire Chief of the Florissant Valley Fire Protection District, Jason Hoevelmann, shared the district’s changes to operations and day-to-day business. The guidelines are made up of a collaborative through the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Association of Firefighters along with guidelines used by the CDC, the Missouri Department of Health, and St. Louis County Department of Health.

Hoevelmann advises the public to avoid impromptu visits to the station; for assistance and/or questions call 314-837-4894 during regular business hours.

“The day-to-day business hours are the same,” stated Hoevelmann, “however we are restricting all of our buildings from public use and we’re not letting people enter the building. It seems like a drastic measure but it’s one that we (must) take to protect the community. The last thing we want is someone contaminating a paramedic, or firefighter who then has to go out and take care of some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”

Hoevelmann stated that the following activities have been halted until further notice: business inspections, fire station tours, fire station community gatherings, fire department participation in community events and other public relations activities. There is a screening process for those who call the station for routine resident smoke alarm inspections. The screening process is in place to eliminate the exposure of fire department team members to any unknown threat. Car seat installations and inspections will be handled in cases of emergency using a similar screening process. CPR first aid classes and other public education activities are currently postponed. Routine trainings for the district are taking place at each engine house in lieu of taking place at multiple entities outside the district. 

Hoevelmann also shared that 9-1-1 calls that require a visit from the Florissant Valley Fire District are being handled differently than normal.

“If there’s a possibility that you have an exposure you’re going to get one paramedic come to your door and (that paramedic) is going to ask you a series of questions that you may have already answered to dispatch them.”

A person who is an “exposure risk” is being handled in that manner but with expedient care, according to Hoevelmann. To limit health risks for those needing immediate medical care, people with needs that are not life threatening are being advised to call the hotline established by Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services at 877-435-8411 in lieu of calling 9-1-1 or going to the emergency room for COVID-19 testing. The hotline is managed 24/7 by medical professionals. 

“If you do call 9-1-1 and you want to be transported, we will take you to the hospital [but] understand that process is going to be different than what it used to be during this time and with these current restrictions,” stated Hoevelmann. “These guidelines that we’re following during responses is handed down by CDC, the Missouri Department of Health, and the St. Louis County Department of Health.”

The Florissant Police Department can be reached directly at 314-831-7000.

CUTLINE: Photos courtesy city of Florissant

Cover-police1 Florissant Police Department Chief of Police Timothy Fagan.

Cover-Police2 The Florissant Valley Fire Protection Department.