Newport News fire station reopens after two bed bug outbreaks in the past 9 months

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – A Newport News fire station has reopened after a bed bug outbreak.

Interim Fire Chief Scott Liebold said there have been two outbreaks at Fire Station 5 in the past nine months.

Amy Snead, Health and Safety Officer for the Newport News Fire Department, gave News 3 a tour of the room where the outbreaks happened, which is where the firefighters sleep at night.

“We have had two incidents in this station in the last nine months.  Remarkably, these are the first occurrences in a fire station in Newport News. Other cities in the region have had similar issues in the past. The most recent issue for us was reported in early December, and the station was cleared for use last week,” Leibold said through a written

The chief said the firehouse just got cleared for use last week.

Snead said it’s been learning experience dealing with bed bugs in the fire station.

Below, Chief Liebold gave a more in-depth response to some of our questions:

What was done to treat the problem?

All personnel were moved out of the station and all fabric materials that were removed from the station were washed and dried on high heat in an effort to minimize the potential spread of the insects.  Employees were also provided with information from the CDC and the EPA regarding bedbugs, treatment, identification, and additional information to aid in keeping their personal homes and families safe.

The City contracts with licensed professional exterminators who provide services to all City buildings.  When reports of bedbugs were received, the City’s Building Services Division worked with the contractor to develop a plan and treat the affected area.  The first occurrence required repeated treatment with different pesticides to control the situation.  The contractor also placed “sentinel” traps in all stations to gauge whether this was an isolated problem or more widespread.  The inspection of the traps indicated no other stations were affected.  Additionally, due to the reported tenacity of bedbugs in general and the fact that several different pesticides were needed to control the first outbreak, the City engaged a second, independent, licensed professional pest control company to review the steps taken by the City’s contractor and the pesticides used. 

The second contractor concurred with the methods and products used by the City’s contractor as following industry best practices.  As a final step, the second contractor brought in a canine specifically trained to detect live bedbugs, eggs and larva.  The canine inspection was negative indicating no live bugs were detected.  All of the mattresses were removed and discarded and replaced with new mattresses with bedbug resistant encasements.  Firefighters were allowed to return to the station. 

The second report of bedbugs in the station, 5 months later, led to a similar treatment regimen from our licensed contractor.  Additionally, we took extra steps to remove permanent privacy dividers in the affected area and also replaced the carpet with VCT flooring.   The bed frames were disassembled and all component parts were heat treated to ensure that any bedbugs that may have been in a void area were killed.  The second independent contractor was again brought in to review methods and a canine inspection completed on January 21, 2019 was negative.

How was the city accommodating the firefighters who are supposed to be at Fire Station 5? 

The crews and apparatus assigned to station #5 were relocated to Station #4, about 2 miles away.  The area currently served by station #5 was part of Stations #4’s response area before station #5 was constructed.  The temporary reassignment of the crew from station #5 to station #4 did not significantly impact our response times into the district.

Any other information would you like us to rely to the public?

The spread of bedbugs across the country has reached epidemic status. These insects are parasitic hitchhikers looking for a blood meal to ensure the survival of the next generation. Half a century ago, DDT (banned in the 70’s) was the pesticide of choice in homes.  However, bedbugs were able to develop a resistance to even that pesticide and survive.  With greater concern and oversight over chemicals used in the home, most of the over the counter products simply are not sufficient to deal with these parasites and the population is thriving.  Licensed professionals have access to stronger products with a much higher efficacy that are not available to citizens but the treatment can be expensive. 

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