City of Scottsbluff keeping first responders safe

Scottsbluff Police Department patrol officer Bobbi Kuhlman directs traffic on 20th Street Friday morning. The department has had some close calls with coronavirus, but is taking precautions to try to keep officers safe.

Changing protocols have been implemented by the Scottsbluff Police and Fire Departments to help prevent potential exposures to COVID-19.

Interim city manager Rick Kuckkahn said the city has tried to be very careful with its public safety personnel. Shifts have been adjusted so that there are not as many police officers or firefighters in the same place at the same time in the event of an exposure.

The fire department has been shifted to have personnel at two different locations — Western Nebraska Community College and the Public Safety Building on Avenue B.

The police department has been split into a number of different shifts in an effort to keep the officers separated as much as possible.

“We have had some close calls where there was exposure, “ Kuckkahn said, “and you can imagine with police and fire both directly involved in this, there have been cases where there was exposure, and we’ve had to quarantine for the 14 days. Fortunately, we had these shifts set up the way they were set up to avoid having more than a couple of our officers affected at one time.”

Keeping up with calls where there is risk of exposure is part of the job, but at least some of the exposures are preventable, he said.

“We have had cases more recently here where there are citizens who test positive, and then don’t stay home and self-quarantine,” Kuckkahn said. “When others find out about that, police get the call and we have to try to corral them back into the home. That’s a very difficult process. I would urge citizens that, if you have tested positive, you need to stay in the home and not jeopardize, not only your neighbors, but our ability to cover the community with appropriate police services.”

The city had three sanitation workers test positive for the coronavirus, and all three have recovered.

“All the folks who tested positive had to stay at home for a couple of weeks,” Kuckkahn said, “but they’re all back to work. They’re all fine, and so are their families. The blessing here is that we have had incidents, but the families and employees all worked through it, and they’re back healthy and back at work”

With three workers testing positive and others potentially exposed, the sanitation department had to adapt.

“We backed up sanitation with other departments,” Kuckkahn said. “We had a couple of times where were able to backfill, and we’ve used road crews to drive a sanitation truck.”

Kuckkahn said it’s important that people take measures to protect themselves and others.

“When you look at the situation, as much as we all want to get out and have this over with, we’re still getting cases,” he said. “We’re still getting positives. We had nine or so (Tuesday). For us, that’s quite a number. I can’t think of a time when we’ve had more than nine people test positive. In my mind, we still need to be vigilant, We still need to be careful with our city services. Again, as much as everybody wants to get back to normal, we’re still positioned to be able to back things up, and with police and fire, we’re keeping those shifts split.”

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Reporter

Mark McCarthy is a reporter with the Star-Herald and oversees the Gering Courier as editor. He can be reached at 308-632-9049 or via email at mark.mccarthy@starherald.com.

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