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'It's a collective effort' | First responders prepare for winter storm

Many employees will be working longer hours. They ask that you stay home and only call 911 with emergencies.

ATLANTA — While you get ready at home for the weather this weekend, first responders across the state are preparing within their agencies.

11Alive reached out to several fire departments, police departments, and hospital systems. The message they all had in common is: if you don't need to go out, stay home. That way you can stay safe and the roads remain clear for emergency crews.

Firefighters at DeKalb County Fire Rescue are hard at work preparing for the possibility of a weekend of hard work.

“For us, it's about getting our generators ready. We were speaking to our fleet maintenance, who's making sure that we have chains for our vehicles in case we need to deploy them," Chief Darnell Fullom said.

Chief Fullom said it will be all hands on deck... and for longer hours, too.

“Their shifts start at seven o'clock, the crews that are in the station. In many cases, they'll just come in the night before, get their sleeping in the station so they can be ready to relieve the crew that's getting off that morning," he said.

Credit: Provided.

Similar to the Cobb County Fire Department, which is making sure its stations have salt for the driveways and chains for their vehicles.

A spokesperson with the agency said:

We’ve made sure our stations have salt for their driveways and our apparatus has the ability to utilize chains if the weather causes that demand.

We’ve been affected by COVID similar to other departments, but we’re very proud of our firefighters for keeping our staffing at levels where we are able to provide the services expected in Cobb County without any station closures. 

In the meantime, Gwinnett County Police said it is also clearing and treating roads so people have access to critical facilities.

Critical facilities include hospitals, like WellStar Health System, which said it's monitoring staffing levels.

In a statement, a spokesperson sent 11Alive the following information:

WellStar Health System is actively monitoring weather conditions associated with the current Winter Storm Watch. Our facilities plan to remain open and operate during regular business hours during this time. We are also monitoring our staffing levels and supply chain to ensure we have adequate, continued access to materials, equipment, and personnel needed to care for patients. WellStar has made accommodations for team members who cannot commute safely during the inclement weather. The public is encouraged to stay weather aware, avoid roadways, and prepare their homes and vehicles for winter weather.

The Northeast Georgia Health System tells 11Alive it is delaying opening times for some of its urgent cares and imaging centers through Monday.

It has updates on the latest closures or delays, here.

Meanwhile, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta said its hospitals will remain open 24/7. 

In a statement, CHOA said the following:

"Icy roads could make it difficult to access our hospitals, so we ask families to use caution in any rain, ice or snow. Visit www.choa.org for our most current updates."

Chief Fullom with DeKalb Fire said shortages right now are common in many agencies, especially due to COVID-19, but they are working as hard as possible with the crew available.

“We are seeing that, just like everybody else," he said. "It's experiencing the shortages and employees at the hospitals, longer waiting times. The hospitals have been overburdened, inundated with folks that are coming in. In many cases, they're looking for information and test kits. The hospitals are finding themselves overwhelmed by the amount of folks that are coming during these times."

That's why he asks that you only call 911 in case of an emergency – this weekend especially.

"We're going to respond, we're going to come if you're needed," he said. "But if it's a non-emergency, we would ask for you not to call.”

The Atlanta Police Department, however, tells 11Alive it has not experienced any personnel shortages "at this time" due to omicron.

"We will be working under normal operations this weekend," APD said in a statement.

Chief Fullom adds that most fires happen during the winter months when folks are staying home. Since staying home this weekend is the main advice, he has a few reminders.

Space heaters:

“We always say a space heater needs space. You want to give at least three feet around it to make sure that nothing can catch on fire," he said. 

Fireplaces:

"Make sure that your fireplace has been serviced before you use it for the first time."

Generators:

"Right now a lot of folks may find themselves having to use a generator if they lose power. It's important that you use that generator first outside, not inside of a garage," he added. "It should be at least five feet away from your home. The danger there is the carbon monoxide.”

Credit: Provided.

Chief Fullom explains that carbon monoxide poisoning kills about 400 people a year. It is known as "the silent killer".

"It's odorless. You can't see it, you're not gonna smell it. But over time, it could have effects upon your health. In about two hours, you could die from it. The early signs of that are going to be flu-like symptoms. So imagine that we're dealing with the pandemic, this is flu season and on top of that you may be experiencing what could be carbon monoxide poisoning," he said. "So please get detectors, have one on each floor of your home and if you can in every bedroom."