By Ryan Hill

CERES (CBS13) – A small fire department takes a big hit. Ceres Fire Chief Kevin Wise said at least six of his firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19 since last Thursday.

“We knew it was going to be inevitable; somebody would finally test positive,” Wise said.

The first case came to light Thursday morning with two more positive cases happening that afternoon. After having the whole department tested on Friday, another positive test came back with two more over the weekend.

“I really hope we can stop this at six personnel. But, if it goes further, you know, it’s going to be very detrimental to our department,” Wise said.

Wise said the department continues to follow proper sanitization procedures after these positive cases. The department is also stopping joint agency training exercises and significantly cutting down on physical interaction and heightened mask wearing for their own firefighters at their stations.

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This situation is hitting home for people who could need help from the first responders themselves.

“They’re coming into contact with a lot of people of Ceres or Modesto. So, it seemed like a matter of time, really,” Robert Moreno from Ceres said.

“I feel bad for them because they work hard for us,” Paul Hester from Ceres said.

Making matters worse as the six firefighters self-quarantine, there’s still four active vacancies on the department’s personnel, according to Wise. He told us he has 33 personnel on his staff so now he’s out about one-third of his department.

Wise told CBS13 that they are thin right now but, a lot of crews are working overtime to make up the workforce so services aren’t impacted.

“We’re able to fill all of our shifts and keep our stations open,” Wise said.

This isn’t the first department in the area to have a COVID-19 cluster. The Turlock Fire Department, which had one about two weeks ago, is in a partnership with the Ceres Fire Department and two other agencies. These departments can assist each other depending on the nature of the call.

Whether that Turlock Fire Department contributed to the Ceres Fire Department’s outbreak, it’s too early to tell.

“Anything is possible with COVID. I can tell you that there hasn’t been a lot of interaction with the Turlock firefighters since their outbreak,” Wise said. “We do run calls together. We go down on fires together but, there’s no way to really tell.”

Wise said that the Ceres Fire Department already cut down significantly engaging in physical contact with these other departments when they responded to one of these joint calls. But, it didn’t hinder the operational aspects of what was required to put out any given fire.

The Ceres Fire Department will undergo another round of COVID-19 testing on Tuesday.

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