Quentin and Stacy Blakley opened the “decontamination station” in their home garage as the coronavirus pandemic took root in Georgia in March and have never shut it down. Mr. Blakley, 45, an Atlanta firefighter based at the city’s international airport, uses it to protect his family from a job that exposes him to strangers daily. At the end of each 24-hour shift attending to aircraft emergencies and medical calls, he returns to his South Fulton, Ga., home and removes his uniform in the garage. No exceptions. He showers away from Stacy, 45, and their four sons — ages 14, 12 and a set of 9-year-old twins — then dumps his clothing in a bag to be washed. Finally, Mr. Blakley walks into his house.
Quentin I work at the busiest airport in the world, which means I come into contact with a lot of people. I have to decontaminate myself before I can deal with my wife and sons. We have learned a lot more about how Covid-19 spreads since it started, but there is still so much we don’t know. If we get a call in the airport, we have to pass hundreds of people, some closely, to get to that one patient who needs help. Any one of the people could be carrying it. So, I am just being as cautious and careful as possible to make sure I do not bring anything home.
Stacy We all learned the term “frontline worker” during the pandemic. This is what Quentin has been for 15 years. And yes, it’s scary when you think about the environment he is in for a 24-hour shift. As soon as the pandemic started, we set up the garage for him. I call it the decontamination station.
Stacy Quentin has high blood pressure, and after discovering blood clots in his legs, he was recently diagnosed with diabetes. The data show that African-Americans with pre-existing conditions are more susceptible to this virus. I never really talked to him about this, but that compounded my stress levels. I am thinking, this is my husband and the father of my four boys. I don’t like the term fear, but that is what it was.
Stacy We were both dealing with the stress but also connecting it back to our families.
Quentin I grew up watching my dad struggle with diabetes and having to take insulin shots.
Stacy My dad had a stroke at 36 and died of a heart attack at 54.
Quentin There was also the fear talk. I had to sit the boys down and explain to them what the pandemic was. I told them society has changed and we have to change, too. I had to try to curb their fears. Like everybody else, they were hearing on TV that 1,000 people got it or 800 people died. All they are hearing is numbers and death, and that shook them at first. And they said, “Dad, you deal with the public, what does that mean for you?” And I said, “It means I have to do everything in my power to stay safe and keep you safe.”
Stacy The boys have been real troupers. We needed to do something as a family. So we’ve taken up bike riding. I went and got my old 10-speed bike out of my mom’s garage, and we had it fixed. We have been riding around the neighborhood and on trails. That’s now our new family outing.
Stacy I am a civil engineer. My job was eliminated because of Covid-19. That was back in April. And so now I have this new life as a teacher to my kids who are at home. And honestly, it’s scary when you are used to a biweekly paycheck. At the same time, I have always wanted my own engineering firm. I created it in 2016 as a safe space for all, especially for women and people of color, but I really didn’t give it life until now. It’s called Douglas Consulting Group, named after my father. On the one hand, oh my God, I lost my job. On the other hand, oh my God, look at this opportunity to do this full-time.