Three Pinellas County fire departments have joined forces to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, as representatives from three agencies recently formed a specialized response unit dedicated to responding to COVID-19 calls.

The unit is a collaboration between the Clearwater, Safety Harbor and Largo departments and is comprised of crews of three volunteers working two 12-hour shifts. The crews operate as a roving response team deployed by the county 911 dispatcher to respond to coronavirus-related calls in all three districts, according to Safety Harbor District Chief Brady Hummer.

“Pinellas County dispatch has a run card for the pandemic, and when it falls into that category and we’re close enough to respond, we’ll be placed on the call,” he explained. “This frees up fire apparatus for the next call and helps prevent firefighters from being exposed to the virus while not burning through valuable PPE (personal protective equipment).”

Hummer, who has been with SHFD for 14 years, said the idea for the team came from captains and other officials as a way to put dedicated manpower and resources toward combating the crisis.

“It all came together really quick,” he said of the roving unit, which was first deployed April 6.

While he acknowledged there were some kinks to work through at the beginning, Hummer said the unit has since been running smoothly.

“The first couple of days it took a while to work out the bugs because it is a pilot program. There’s a lot that goes into it at dispatch, a lot of moving parts,” he said. “But it’s working out really well, and the call volumes have been increasing.”

When the unit began operating, Hummer said it was responding to less than six calls per shift, but that number has steadily increased.

“The call volumes are increasing, from four to nine to 10-plus,” he said. “And every morning I run the list of prior calls and it shows me a map of the locations so I can place the unit in the spots with the highest volume of calls.”

Hummer said right now the need for the unit is there, but he wasn’t sure how long it would remain in place.

“That’s above my pay level,” he said with a laugh. “But they do have a mobilization plan set based on the statistics, which are changing daily. So, we might get an (end) date soon. It could be a couple of months, it could be a couple of weeks. I don’t know.”

Until then, he said the COVID-19 response unit would continue to hang out in abandoned parking lots and desolate alleys, waiting to be called upon when needed.

“They can also stay at (Safety Harbor) Station 53 (on McMullen Booth Road) if they choose, if they don’t want to expose their family,” Hummer noted. “If they want shelter, we provide it.”