CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) - Over the last few weeks, bedbugs have been discovered at three Charleston fire stations -- Station 20 on Daniel Island, and Stations 7 and 13 on James Island. Bed bug infestations have been a growing issue across the country and in our region. Myrtle Beach Fire Department experienced a similar issue in 2015 that impacted four of their stations, Florence, AL, Fire Department combated the issue for several weeks this year, and Berkeley County EMS worked through similar issues just a few months ago.
Once the problem was identified at Station 20 the firefighters were relocated to Station 18 while a professional contractor proceeded with the treatment, inspection, and cleaning of the station utilizing a chemical treatment process. Upon completion of the process, crews returned to the station, but still observed signs of infestation. Crews were again relocated as the professional contractor applied another treatment. Information was distributed to the department outlining recommended preventive measures to reduce the spread of the pests.
Due to employee concerns about the residual effects of the pesticides used, the department's health and safety officer researched and located a mitigation effort that uses high heat to eradicate the pests. This effort was applied to Station 20 and a professional cleaning company was brought in to deep clean the station. Crews returned to Station 20 this week and a bug was located on Sunday. It has yet to be confirmed as a bedbug but the crew was relocated back to Station 18 as a precautionary measure.
Bedbugs were reported at Station 13 and then Station 7 this past week. A specially trained K-9 that detects bedbugs was brought in to search the buildings and "alerted" on a few of the mattresses and sofas at both stations. The items were removed from the station for disposal at Station 7 and some of the items were removed from Station 13. Crew concerns halted further furniture removal at Station 13 until the affected living areas can be treated.
The crews from both stations were relocated to two air-conditioned "Wester Shelters", temporary structures frequently used by urban search and rescue teams and wildland fire teams for crew operations. The tents have been erected outside of Station 13 along with a portable shower and toilet facility to reduce the impact on emergency services coverage in the area. The interior kitchen space was isolated from the impacted living spaces based on recommendations from a professional pest control manager and the bedbug K-9 handler to provide the crews with access to essential laundry facilities, stove and refrigeration.
During this period, the CFD has taken several steps to address the problem, including the hiring of a professional pest control company to treat Station 20, shifting mitigation strategy to heat treatment to address employee concerns, and issuing updates that reinforce best practices to reduce the likelihood of spread to other stations or firefighter's homes.
John Tippett has directed all city fire stations be inspected by the specially trained K9 to ensure that they are free of bedbugs or identified rapidly for mitigation. One additional station (Fire Station 19) was inspected based on a concern, but found to be free of the problem. Additionally, the department is working with Charleston Housing Authority to obtain use of their heating units to apply to the affected stations. Due to the holiday weekend the department was unable to deploy the equipment through the housing authority and had to take measures with temporary housing in order to ensure we maintained protection of the residents in the area.
"This isn't something we ever want our firefighters to have to go through or are happy about them enduring," said Interim Chief Tippett. "But, as always, our members have more than risen to the occasion, and really been remarkable every step of the way. They know that this job is ultimately about saving lives and property, as we saw just this morning with the fire at the Ashley Marina. The men and women of this department aren't about to let this or any other problem get in the way of that duty. My staff and I are committed to resolving this problem as quickly as possible, getting the crews back in their stations and giving them the peace of mind they need to keep their families safe."
Due to the holiday weekend we were unable to deploy the equipment through the housing authority or immediately secure extermination services at Station 7. The temporary facilities were necessary in order to reduce the impact on emergency services coverage in the area while removing our team from the living quarters of the station. At this time, no members have advised the Safety Officer of any reports of bed bugs beyond these stations or at their homes.