Police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and others responsible for the public’s safety have shouldered a much heavier burden than usual over the past year.

They have always labored on the front line, but the global pandemic has put them at even higher risk. COVID-19 has greatly affected first responders in the region, and a special section in today’s print edition and online offers a glimpse into the struggles they face, from staffing to supplies, and details how they have dealt with the challenges.

During the peak of the pandemic, for example, Cumberland Fire Department ambulance crews transported three or four virus-positive patients for treatment daily. Chief Donnie Dunn said 13 members of the fire department have tested positive since the end of October.

In another story, James Pyles, director of the Allegany County Department of Emergency Services, emphasized the importance of quick responses following emergency calls, and said great strides have been made in improving pre-hospital EMS care. “After a citizen calls 911 and requests an ambulance, time is everything,” he said.

Additionally, Frostburg Police Department leaders say the force is looking forward to moving back into its upgraded headquarters on South Broadway, which is being combined with City Hall in a major renovation project. Officers have been working out of a building on the campus of Frostburg State University during construction.

While membership has declined over the years, the New Creek Volunteer Fire Department logged a record number of calls in 2020 and is maintaining the highest response rate in Mineral County, West Virginia, at 95%. Other Mountain State companies, like Moorefield, Petersburg and Ridgeley, and Maryland volunteers at the Baltimore Pike, Mount Savage, Orleans and Potomac stations, also remain busy serving their communities in the fallout from the novel coronavirus.

The First Responders keepsake edition also provides a look back on missions flown by the Maryland State Police Trooper 5 medevac helicopter, along with articles about the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, Mineral County’s 911 dispatchers and the Allegany County Sheriff’s Office Fire Police.

Readers will also find a reprint of the Cumberland Sunday Times story of Jan. 14, 1973, detailing a fire that destroyed three Main Street businesses and damaged five others in Frostburg.

It takes a special kind of person to become a first responder. We often forget that these selfless citizens show up for each shift prepared for the worst. We don’t think about the constant, high level of protection that’s only a phone call away until it’s our house on fire, our vehicle involved in a traffic accident or our loved one who is stricken and needs assistance. They truly are heroes and should be treated as such.

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