Mehrdad Zarifkar ’09: The view from Mount Vernon

Mehrdad Zarifkar ’09 is a captain on the Mount Vernon, Iowa, all-volunteer fire department and says they were pleased at Cornell College’s quick response to the pandemic. Cornell students, with the exception of a very few who needed to stay on campus, are home learning online for Blocks 7 and 8.

“Not having all those people in close quarters helps limit exposure in Mount Vernon. And we are doing all we can to limit exposure and ensure our availability to respond to emergencies,” he says, adding that the downside is losing four Cornell student firefighters.


This is part of a series of stories on Cornellians responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


 Zarifkar says everyone in the 32-person department is expected to check in daily to provide their temperatures and fill out a health questionnaire. Those who don’t, can’t go on calls that day. They also have some new response guidelines for dealing with medical emergencies and are coordinating with the ambulance service to limit the number of responders potentially exposed to patients. 

 “If you’re inadvertently exposed and in a truck with five people, you just lost five people’s ability to respond for a period of time,” he explains.

As a parent of a kindergartener, Zarifkar was inspired to come up with programs to keep kids entertained every week. He hosted a Facebook Live virtual fire station tour during the first week local schools were out, which had 3,500 views (in a town of 4,500—well, 3,500 without Cornell students). He’s also planning a drive-by parade in town with the new fire truck (“It’s always fun driving big fire trucks around”). 

Not surprisingly there will be additional fire prevention activities as well. In fact, now that many people are cooking more at home, Zarifkar (who majored in biochemistry and molecular biology at Cornell) wants to remind everyone that cooking is the leading cause of home fires. In addition, he says that while everyone is at home, it would be a good time to review fire escape plans, do some drills and review what to do if the smoke alarms (which should be checked too!) go off. 

How are you responding to the COVID-19 pandemic? Contact us to share your story, or alert us to other Cornellian’s responses.