Despite increasing vaccinations and relaxation of COVID-19 regulations across the state, state wildland firefighters will still need to follow strict COVID-19 protocols.
The Department of Health says more than 67% of the state's population over age 16 is now vaccinated against Covid. And while that certainly includes many who work on DNR fire crews, currently DNR managers have no way to determine who that might be.
George Geissler is DNR's Deputy of Wildland Fire and Forest Health:
“There's privacy rules related to what people can keep or know about you from a health standpoint, so right now those rules prevent us from collecting information on our employees related their vaccinations or their medical health," Geissler said.
Without a good idea of who is vaccinated, the department has opted to keep in place many of the Covid safety rules they instituted last year, including wearing of masks and other steps.
“Having small groups spread further apart, and the chow line, no chow line. Essentially you pick up your meals in containers and take them away to eat. We do have some conditions where available we don't use a camp, we use a hotel, and then all the firefighters can have rooms and showers and cleanliness. And there's there's the deep cleaning and all those procedures that come into play," he said.
Geissler clarifies that firefighters will not be wearing masks when actually on the fire lines, but crew members are not that close together in those conditions.
He says those safety rules may change gradually as the fire season progresses this year.