Tazewell County Emergency Services overcomes pandemic obstacles to offer warming station

TAZEWELL, VA (WOAY) – Warming stations are temporary setups that anyone can use if they find themselves without adequate shelter during a cold winter night. Local governments and emergency services tend to set them up around this time of year.

But due to COVID precautions, setting them up this year required some extra doing.

Barry Brooks is the Tazewell County Director of Fire and Emergency Services. He was tasked with setting up a shelter in Tazewell as temperatures dropped overnight.

“Normally in a situation as cold as it got last night, I’d have my fire departments and some of my EMS stations set up as warming stations. But with the COVID situation, I obviously couldn’t be bringing people into that environment because it’s just not controlled,” Brooks said.

If someone needed the warming station, they would call the non-emergency line, and Brooks would be notified. He would then head to Main Street where the station was set up, and open it for those in need.

“I had selected a building that had a large, open area of square footage. We put it out on the Sheriff’s Facebook and anywhere I could get it out. If the power went out, if they needed it, it was available.”

Some precautions would be put in place. He’d do an intake to see who went in at what times, and he’d check temperatures in case anyone was showing symptoms of COVID. He’d also hand out masks if needed and ensure everyone was staying safe. He says even during a pandemic, these shelters are incredibly important during the winter.

“We’ve got a lot of elderly residents, we have a lot of people in mobile homes. And the night before, we lost power for about two hours in Bluefield. So it was a possibility that the power might go out.”

The warming shelter was made available on the night of Christmas Eve. Thankfully, no one ended up needing it, but Brooks remained on standby just in case.

The Tazewell County Emergency Services said they would likely offer the shelter again this winter if temperatures get low enough.