Scottsdale Fire Captain Pete Tocco

Scottsdale Fire Captain Pete Tocco, vice president of the Scottsdale Fire Fighters Association, packed meals for seniors as part of an effort sponsored by the group earlier this year.

As Arizona continues to battle COVID-19, Scottsdale’s firefighters are asking the community to wear masks and take other precautions to combat spread of the virus.

“We are issuing a call to action from our community members, as we see the power and strength within our collective community,” the Scottsdale Fire Fighters Association posted online. “Help us protect each other by practicing safe physical and social distancing, wearing a mask or face covering when out in public and when in close proximity to others.”

The letter also asked residents to practice proper hand-washing techniques, stay home when able and to contact a doctor when feeling unwell.

Association President Sasha Weller said that spreading the information is part and parcel of the organization’s public safety mission.

“First and foremost, we’re involved in the public safety, so we want to make sure that we’re doing our part to keep the community as safe as possible,” Weller said. “That’s our daily mission, and we want people to recognize that it’s an important part of what we’re dealing with right now.”

Though he acknowledged masks can be uncomfortable, Weller said on-duty fire fighter wear them all day in the firehouse and on calls, only removing them while eating.

Weller asked the community to take the precautions to protect firefighters and others on the front lines who are frequently exposed to individuals infected with the virus.

“We’re going to be here no matter what,” Weller said. “But it’s a real deal. Let’s take care of ourselves. Let’s take care of our communities. Let everybody kind of do their part.”

Between April 1 and July 20, 100 City of Scottsdale employees either tested positive or had a family member test positive. That total included 24 Fire Department employees and 21 police employees, according to a city spokesman.

Weller said the number of infections at the Fire Department is now over 30.

The department has a number of different protocols in place to curb spread among its ranks.

Weller said firefighters have their temperatures taken twice daily and are tested as needed if they present symptoms or were potentially exposed to an infected person.

“Some members have not been tested because there’s no (reason) behind why they need to be tested, and some members have been tested three or four times,” Weller said.

He said the department has not encountered any shortages in personal protective equipment like masks despite worries early on in the pandemic that nationwide supply chain issues would affect cities and public safety departments around the Valley.

Weller commended Fire Chief Tom Shannon for ensuring the department has had adequate supplies. 

“There were a couple of times where we were concerned about running short, but we never actually did run short,” Weller said.

The association’s plea to the public comes as cases continue to rise in Arizona, though there is some indication that the situation is trending in the right direction.

Capitol Media Services earlier this month said that the state’s R-naught number is once again below 1.0. That value, calculated by Rt.live, is the average number of people who become infected. If that number is above 1.0, the virus will spread; lower values indicate it will stop spreading. On July 15, the figure was 0.97.

Still, Arizona averaged around 3,000 new reported cases per day over the past week. As of July 21, there were 5,543 confirmed cases in Scottsdale ZIP codes, according to the state Health Services Department’s interactive online map.

Southern Scottsdale has been hit hardest by the virus, according to the data. ZIP codes 85251 and 85257 account for 36 percent of total cases in the city.

Those numbers could be skewed by the presence of a hospital, HonorHealth Osborn Medical Center, in 85251 – which account for over a fifth of all infections in Scottsdale.

Efforts by health officials and local leaders to increase mask usage have faced some pushback in Scottsdale and around the state.

Weller acknowledged the mask debate has become political around the country but said his organization’s advocacy is solely rooted in public safety and the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control.

“What we know is that is the best information available and if there is better information available, we’ll evaluate it,” Weller said. “But as it sits right now, the (CDC) is the clearinghouse for the United States for communicable diseases, and we’re going to take our guidance from the people that spend a career studying these things.”