When CEO Bob Sulentic asked for stories about CBRE employees making a difference during the COVID-19 crisis, Ken Steinman, a Regional Facilities Manager for Global Workplace Solutions, answered.
Ken suggested that “some recognition be given to the countless employees that work a full day with CBRE and spend their off time as Emergency Medical Technicians, firefighters, law enforcement and other first responders, because they are on the front lines of the fight.”
Ken noted in particular the work of colleagues Steve Benedict, Chief Building Engineer, and Jason Davis, Facilities Manager, who are both firefighters and work for CBRE on the Siemens account. “I see how they work and support their communities—always without a negative impact on our business. We have a number of employees at CBRE who are first responders, and I recognize how special they are, to perform that kind of service in the first place.”
Despite being hometown heroes, Steve and Jason are extremely humble. As Jason puts it, “We don’t do it for the attention. When I see that two-year-old I saved from a fire, who’s now 17 and graduating high school, that’s all the motivation I need to keep volunteering.”
As Acting Fire Chief for the Bladensburg Fire District (BFD) in Ohio, Steve helps to manage supplies, coordinate with federal agencies, inform the public and more. These days, he spends more than two hours a day in meetings with the state’s Emergency Operations Center, Health Department and other fire companies. He’s also covering shifts for colleagues who must go into self-quarantine.
“We quickly ended up changing our process,” Steve recalls, “because too many responders had to self-quarantine after calls for suspected COVID cases. Now, only one person comes in close contact with the people we evaluate. Sometimes, we have the person come to the door, so we can evaluate them without entering the home.”
Jason, Fire Chief for the Wilkins Township Volunteer Fire Company (VFC) #1 in Pennsylvania, sees similar changes in his department.
“Calling 911 is often the worst day in someone’s life. As a first responder, being able to smile and talk with the person is often enough to calm them down. Even more so, human touch, like a simple hand on their knee. Now, with all the protective gear—masks obscuring our faces, gloves and Tyvek suits covering our skin—it feels more like a ‘distance’ service. We have to adjust to the masks being used by our citizens, too. It’s harder to do a stroke assessment when you can’t see people’s mouths. For me and my crew, that’s been a real learning experience.”
Both Steve and Jason saw a spike in emergency calls to their departments in the first few weeks after their states ordered businesses to close and people to shelter at home. Since then, call volumes have dropped significantly. People have a better understanding of the symptoms, when it makes sense to seek emergency services, and the risks of going to hospitals that have active COVID cases. Still, dispatchers question 911 callers to assess the potential for virus exposure, even if the emergency is unrelated to the pandemic.
Social distancing has changed how their stations operate, too. Maintenance of the buildings is limited to certain times each week, but the equipment also requires more cleaning. For example, any surface that has been touched on the fire engines must be wiped down with bleach after every call. They no longer congregate at the station between calls or stay for regular shifts. Clothes worn at the station are cleaned and left there, to avoid contaminating cars and homes. When they’re onsite, everyone wears masks and gloves at all times. And, crews always carry protective gear, even when off duty, in case they need to answer a call.
All the extra protective gear and cleaning supplies costs money. “Our $200,000 annual budget was already extremely tight,” Steve notes. “We’ve gone through more than 5,000 masks in three months! That’s something you can’t plan for.”
Jason can relate. “Wilkins’ VFCs are completely self-funded. Our station operates on just $55,000 a year, raised through fundraisers, like community BBQs and fish frys, and direct solicitation. We’re extremely fortunate that our local wholesale club recently donated pallets of bleach wipes and disinfectant. That saved us a ton of money.”
Even before the current crisis has ended, Steve and Jason both see years of work ahead of them. “We have a lot of work to do to prepare for the next crisis,” Steve asserts. “Procedures, protections, equipment needs…we understand so much more now than we did before this pandemic.
“But the response we’ve seen from our community has been remarkable. People want to help and are finding great ways to do it. All the cloth masks people are sewing—they’ve made a huge difference. As long as the CDC guidance doesn’t change, keep making as many masks as you can.”
Jason adds, “Knowing how your local fire department operates is an important place to start helping. VFCs like ours save communities enormous amounts of money. And while supporting VFCs financially is critical, donating your time can be just as impactful. For example, if you’re an accountant you could volunteer to manage the books. Every donated service benefits budgets and enables departments to keep serving.”
Special thanks to Steve and Jason for sharing their stories. And, to every community volunteer and first responder, thank you for all you are doing during COVID-19.
Steve Benedict is a part-time paramedic and firefighter and the Assistant Fire Chief for Bladensburg Fire District, a property-tax funded department located 60 miles northeast of Columbus, Ohio. When the state launched its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and issued the stay-at-home order, Steve became Acting Fire Chief, covering for his boss who is 100% dedicated to the EOC. That means every afternoon and weekend, the 28-year-veteran responder is on the job for Bladensburg.
Jason Davis is Fire Chief for Wilkins Township Volunteer Fire Company #1, a 100% volunteer, donation-funded department located 12 miles east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Officially, he’s been a firefighter for 30 years, but it feels like he joined long before that. His father volunteered when Jason was a toddler. He spent his youth at the station and joined at 16, when he was first eligible to apply, because firefighting was already “in his system.” His dad, now 73, still drives one of the trucks.