A Coronavirus Update from Montecito Fire Department Chief Kevin Taylor
Based on the rush of emergency supply hoarding that has gone on for the past few weeks, it seems reasonable to suggest that most Montecito residents weren’t exactly prepared for the COVID-19 crisis when it first hit two weeks ago. Fortunately for us, the Montecito Fire Department (MFD) has been preparing for the event for the past three months. “Back in January, we started participating in planning calls with the county public health department once a week,” says Chief Kevin Taylor. “That allowed us to ramp up or preparations for a pandemic.”
On March 12, about 20 minutes after California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a state of emergency, the MFD issued orders to its staff to begin focusing only on what the agency calls “mission-essential functions,” meaning its ability to respond to public requests for response to fires, medical emergencies, and hazardous material spills.
“Our non-essential employees who can work from home initiated telecommuting on that date,” Taylor says. “We also initiated social distancing, meaning we closed our fire station to the public, cancelled all our public meetings, and switched our board of director meetings to virtual from in-person.”
So far, the biggest challenge in changing up the department’s routine involves the fire station itself. “It’s hard, because the fire station is a family-like environment and folks come and go every 24 hours.” So essential staff have been instructed to call in sick if they have any symptoms, while those who do show up for duty are first subjected to what Taylor calls a “very enhanced regimen” of decontamination.
The department has also joined with the rest of Santa Barbara’s fire departments to purchase coronavirus-proof emergency supplies en masse from the county’s Public Health Department. “Public Health is the clearing house for scarce medical resources, Taylor explained. “Previously we would all make separate requests, which makes their job much more difficult. This coming together makes it easier for us to get what we need and share equipment amongst each other without bothering Public Health.”
The good news, according to Taylor, is that Santa Barbara seems to be weathering the coronavirus pandemic much better than more densely populated areas of California. “We have not yet seen an increase in call volume in our community,” he observes. “Countywide we have actually seen a slight decrease in calls for service, but watching the news, we are all anticipating an uptick. But folks should know that we have been engaged with this for quite some time now and we’re well positioned for whatever happens next.”