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Houston firefighters and police officers face new challenges amid coronavirus outbreak

HOUSTON – First responders never sleep. Even if there is a pandemic.

"We’re first responders. We can’t shut down. We can’t close our doors. We have go to be a 24/7 operation, 365 days a year,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said.

The operations for those fighting crime and fires in Houston have intensified amidst the coronavirus outbreak.

At present, the Houston Police Department has 190 employees in self-quarantine and three patrol officers who have tested positive for the deadly virus.

The Houston Fire Department has 34 employees in quarantine and one positive COVID-19 case.

Police officials attribute their much higher quarantine numbers to some officers and civilian employees being possibly exposed while traveling both within the U.S. and internationally.

For HFD Chief Sam Peña, protecting both the city and his department are imperative.

“For me the critical issue is staffing. Maintaining appropriate staffing and then providing the adequate equipment for our firefighter to safely do our job,” Peña said.

HFD received supplies Wednesday that were purchased by the firefighters union.

Union head Marty Lancton said the union bought 2,500 N95 masks along with 4,000 sets of protective eyewear.

“Every single department, medical professional, everybody’s fighting for the exact same resources to try to get to their people,” said Joe Gamaldi, head of the Houston Police Officers Union.

Gamaldi says one way people can help first responders during the pandemic is to immediately let them know if you have symptoms when you call 911.

“We are still going to come out and help you, but you have to let us know so that we can take the proper precaution," he said.

HFD has responded to thousands of calls since the virus began to spread in Houston, according to Peña. With that in mind, he said he is proud that his department has such a low number of people in quarantine.

Peña says it is a testament to safety measures being carefully taken by his department, as they are routinely the first ones to show up for a medical call.