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Fire Chief Phil Schneider sees potential for financial impact from COVID-19 crisis

This time every year for decades the volunteer firefighters along with hundreds of community members have come together for the annual Sportsman's Breakfast fundraiser at the Sandy Fire Station. That was originally planned for this past weekend, but because of the COVID-19 crisis had to be canceled.

As a tax district, Chief Phil Schneider does see Sandy Fire taking a potential financial hit on the whole from the crisis, as many other people and organizations have already. The district is working on its next budget and Schneider predicts "this year might not be horrible, but we have to plan ahead one or two years."

He's already seeing a possible 7% reduction in the budget just because of the financial impact the crisis has had on taxpayers and local governments.

The department has been fortunate recently as it has received a few generous community donations. On Friday, April 24, COUNTRY Financial Representative Dalton Gendron donated $1,500 to Sandy Fire for EMT equipment and supplies and after news of the Sportsman's Breakfast cancelation hit the town one former long-time volunteer made a large donation to help recoup what the district lost from the event.

"The breakfast is big for us and I knew the volunteers were going to hurt from that," Schneider said. "The event brings in $6,000 to $8,000 every year and they return a lot of that back into the community in the form of scholarships and adopting families at Christmas. Those things would be affected by canceling the breakfast. That donation was a blessing and brought in basically what they were going to make and more."

However, finances are not the only way, obviously, that Sandy Fire has felt the impact of the pandemic. Since March, Schneider said, the department has been responding to sometimes as many as four or five COVID-19-related emergencies a day. And though the department has a volunteer group of more than 50, Schneider's been utilizing mainly the 15 paid staff during the crisis to lessen the number of people around the station.

Before the crisis hit, the department was training a new probationary class of firefighters. Now those classes have taken to an online format, and the firefighters in training, like the volunteers, are being asked not to come and hang around the station for calls.

"You take it for granted and now you can't put them out there," Schneider said. Firefighters are also being told to have only one from the crew make initial contact with people when responding to calls.

"We're so hands-on with people, and it was a hard transition," Schneider explained. "We're trying not to have as much contact with people while still helping them. That's really changed our way of providing EMS. We've also finally just now built up (our stock of PPE) and are feeling sufficient. We're trying to keep the firefighters safe. We're all human also and some have new babies at home and kids running around. They don't want to be taking anything home."

Fortunately, the numbers of calls related to COVID-19 have decreased in the past week.

"Life has changed for all of us and it's hard. Fortunately, no one on staff has gotten sick," Schneider noted. "I think we're doing the right thing, though I know people need to get back to work."

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