The town of Brookline is converting its main public library and an elementary school into a satellite fire houses to help the fire department reduce contact among firefighters to prevent the spread of coronavirus among them.
Brookline Fire Chief John F. Sullivan told WGBH News the department has had five firefighters test positive for COVID-19, and each case requires the quarantine of other staff they have been in contact with.
Sullivan said he recently had about 35 people on quarantine at the same time, out of a staff of 153. Each fire truck has a company or four or five firefighters working together; when two companies are pooled in a single firehouse, any one infected firefighter could force 10 people into quarantine.
So the fire department is converting the basement of the public library and the Coolidge Corner elementary school into satellite firehouses.
"The idea is to separate the companies, so if one person gets sick, then only three or four others would need to be quarantined," Sullivan said.
The buildings both have kitchens and shower facilities and have space for beds; Sullivan said there would be a maximum of 5 people at either location at any one time.
Library director Sara Slymon said the firefighters will only be using the lower level of the massive central library.
"They're gonna clear out a couple of rooms on the lower level, which has direct access to the basement, and they will be setting it up like a bunkhouse," she said. "They'll have beds down there. We have televisions that they'll be able to have access to and we have two full kitchens and a shower. So that was one of the things that made it a particularly good fit ... a lot of other public buildings, unsurprisingly, don't have shower facilities."
Slymon said she has not heard of other public libraries being converted to dorms for first responders — yet — but she said it is not the only effort her library staff is making in response to the coronavirus.
The library is closed, as are nearly all public buildings, but "we have about 15 3-D printers and all of the big ones have gone home with staff and they are printing N-95 masks from home."
The Brookline firefighters plan to move into their temporary new digs Wednesday.