‘Stay home’ means fewer 911 calls, more breathing room for first responders

Fire, police chiefs still concerned about PPE supplies, lack of COVID-19 tests

timestamp icon
category icon COVID-19 coverage, Latest News, News
A fire engine is pictured at the Camas-Washougal Fire Department Station 42 in Camas on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian)

Governor Jay Inslee’s statewide “stay home, stay healthy” order, meant to slow the spread of a deadly new coronavirus, seems to be helping local first responders by alleviating the normal flow of calls for things like vehicle accidents and other non-virus related emergencies. 

“It’s been very quiet, and the call volume is quite a bit lower than would be expected for this time of year,” Camas-Washougal Fire Chief Nick Swinhart told the Post-Record today. “The fact that a lot of people are staying home means there are fewer people around and fewer car crashes.” 

In an interview with Camas Mayor Barry McDonnell posted to the city of Camas’ YouTube channel earlier this week, Camas Police Chief Mitch Lackey agreed that the number of calls coming into his department have gone down since the governor issued the “stay home” order. 

“I do think the community is taking this very seriously,” Lackey said. “There has been a dramatic reduction in traffic on the roadways.”

Swinhart said his first responders are well-equipped to handle an increase in virus-related calls right now, but that he is concerned about supplies and access to COVID-19 testing if local cases start to escalate. 

“As far as PPE (personal protective equipment), we are currently OK,” Swinhart said. “My concern is that, if this worsens, it could be really difficult because we currently cannot get supplies in right now. The supplies that do come in are going to King County (near Seattle) because that’s where most of the cases have been. If things get worse we’ll definitely struggle.” 

Local businesses such as Lutz Hardware and Riverside Dental have donated protective equipment such as gloves and masks to local first responders, and Swinhart said the fire department has had quite a few individuals stop by with other PPE donations. 

Another worry centers on the lack of tests that could tell first responders if they’ve been exposed to the virus. 

“My staff is concerned right now that, if anybody does get exposed to anybody with COVID, there are very few if any tests available in the county and the ones we do have are being restricted to acute hospital patients,” Swinhart said. “If (firefighters) do get exposed, will they even be able to get tested?” 

The fire chief said he and other emergency response leaders are meeting daily with county and state communications directors and constantly asking about possible testing supplies.

“But there is nothing on the horizon currently,” Swinhart said of getting more tests for Clark County. “We’re putting out the word to other agencies to get what tests they can, but the few that we do have are being reserved for very, very sick patients.” 

Emergency operations center ready to go, if needed

Lackey has established an emergency operations center with a bank of computers and telephones to act as, Swinhart said, “a central system for the city if things get exponentially worse.” 

If the crisis worsens, Camas’ emergency responders, city representatives and public works staff could use the center to help keep essential city services running. 

Officials may open the center if the number of local COVID-19 deaths begins to climb — as of today there have been five Clark County deaths linked to the virus — or if Camas began to see multiple exposures to the virus. 

“It hasn’t been activated yet, and we hope it doesn’t have to be,” Swinhart said of the emergency operations center. 

Lackey told McDonnell on Monday that the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency (CRESA), in coordination with the county’s public health department, has established an emergency center to act as “a one-stop location for everything to do with the crisis.” 

“I find it very helpful as a police chief to get information (from the CRESA emergency center) every day, even on the weekends,” Lackey said. 

He added that the three main concerns at the county and local levels right now are getting more test kits and PPE for the area’s first responders and medical workers. 

McDonnell, in his video with the fire and police chiefs, urged all Camas residents to take the governor’s “stay home” order seriously. 

“Stay at home if you can and maintain social distances,” McDonnell said. “We have to do our part to make this a slow pandemic and one that will not overwhelm the system.” 

To see that video, as well as the mayor’s interviews with other city leaders, visit