DERRY — Derry 's top fire leader said the challenges faced by his department during the current coronavirus could stretch for weeks, or months ahead.
That, according to fire Chief Michael Gagnon, is why his department and first responders are doing all that's necessary to keep the community and themselves safe.
Gagnon came before the Town Council at a meeting March 24, giving the most recent updates on the coronavirus and how it's affecting Derry and its residents.
The current climate is something his department has been preparing for, Gagnon said.
"But we never thought we'd get to this point today," the chief said.
Gagnon gave an update on how residents were handling various parts of their every day life, from doing business at town hall, doing transactions online and accessing information provided by both fire and police departments while maintaining safe distances from all community entities.
Gagnon said the fire department's routine has changed.
That includes no more public training sessions like CPR or other educational classes, no fire station tours, or meeting the public at the various stations in person.
"Our access to inner lobbies has been modified and screened," Gagnon said. "There are no tours or non-essential visits."
And as community members often reached out to thank first responders and police officers for their help, departments will no longer be accepting any food donations at stations in town.
"We are trying to stay 6-feet away at all times," Gagnon said.
The fire chief said his department and Derry's emergency management team are kept updated daily with coronavirus updates, are in regularly communication with Parkland Medical Center in Derry, and are receiving information from other community health partners and state departments.
Gagnon said current times are something never seen before.
"It's a new norm," he said. "We have not dealt with this before. But we will rise to the challenge."
As his department and station staff deal with the everyday calls for emergency support, with the coronavirus challenges, there are fire staff that have been in contact with potential infectious cases.
Several of his personnel are back to work after specific quarantined time away, with others awaiting test results, Gagnon said.
And having the proper protective gear is also an issue.
Gagnon said right now his department is in need of eye shields, surgical masks and isolation gowns, something many areas of the nation are facing with shortages and high demand taking over many departments.
Gagnon said orders were placed for the equipment but it's an unknown how soon delivery would be made.
The chief also stressed that the region made plans to use hospitals and other regional areas on notice in case a space was required for a "surge" location, taking care of higher numbers of coronavirus patients if hospitals were flooded and overwhelmed.
But Gagnon did stress Derry's Parkland Medical Center had 86 beds and so far was on call for support if needed.
"These are crazy times," Gagnon said. "This is a long-term event."
Gagnon stressed that the public needs to continue its strong determination to stay safe and to keep others around them safe as well.
That includes continuing with basic hand washing, keeping away from social crowds and reaching out if other help and resources are needed. The 211 line is available in town to keep residents up to date on coronavirus information and updates.
"There are a lot of unknowns now" Gagnon said. "The next 14-21 days will be very telling."