FIRST RESPONDERS_MASKS

Strasburg police officer Phil Henry sports a batman mask as he waits on a citizen outside Strasburg's town hall recently.

The Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue is asking the community to donate handmade face masks for first responders.

As of Monday, the department knew of seven people or organizations working on donating masks, including an Edinburg family that so far has given them 540 masks, said Shannon Walters, deputy emergency management coordinator for the department.

Fire and Rescue had put out a recent request on Facebook and to area churches, Walters said.

“They saw our plea for help and reached out to us,” she said.

“Valley Health has been fantastic,” Walters said, adding that the health system has provided the department with several masks. “Valley Health has given us masks two different times."

Still, the department can use more masks.

“We know that we may run out of personal protective equipment for our first responders,” Walters said.

The donations will help ease a need for personal protective equipment that Walters said is in high demand among first responders and others who work in close contact with the public.

Like other areas around the country, Shenandoah County is struggling to get enough personal protective equipment to keep front line workers and the community safe from the COVID-19 virus.

In addition to fire and rescue personnel, the department is collecting masks for other first responders like law enforcement, fire and EMS professionals as well as employees of Public Works and Social Services.

The request is part of the county’s public health emergency response plan. For now, the county is at Level 1, the Green Phase, which Walters said means they’re still operating at a fairly routine status while taking precautions for patients who exhibit symptoms of illness. The other two phases are the Level 2 Yellow Phase and the Level 3 Red Phase. She said the three operational phases determine how the county’s emergency personnel are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[It’s] how we would handle certain things,” she said.

Collecting a stockpile of masks is part of the department’s plan to stay prepared for how it will serve the community in the coming weeks and months while the threat of virus persists, she said.

Those who would like to donate masks are asked to provide double-sided cotton masks using a different colored material for each side. Elastic should be added to fit around the ears, she said.

The department is also looking to collect N-95 masks, surgical masks and gowns where possible.

For more information or to donate, contact Shannon Walters at swalters@shenandoahcountyva.us.

Contact Josette Keelor at jkeelor@nvdaily.com