By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
Firefighters and emergency medical technicians face unique challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, as they encounter contagious people while striving to keep themselves free of COVID-19 through screening and protective gear.
Southgate Fire Chief Marc Hatfield said his department has sufficient protective equipment for its first responders, with more supplies on order.
He urged people to call their primary care physician first to discuss any flu-like symptoms they experience, and to use the drive-through testing procedures established by local hospitals.
Hatfield said central dispatch has established a screening protocol for 911 callers.
“They will be asking the caller a series of questions, trying to determine if the caller is having any COVID-19 symptoms,” he said. “When the fire department responds to any EMS rescue call, our firefighter/paramedics will be wearing eye protection and a mask, along with our usual personal protective equipment.”
Hatfield said people should not be alarmed if first responders attempt to make contact with them from outside the home or from a different room in the house.
“We will be doing our best to limit our contact to six feet or more,” he said. “Our crews have been instructed to only bring essential equipment into the home, to limit the exposure of our equipment.”
He said people should not become alarmed if personnel determine that a higher level of personal protective equipment is needed, and they step out for a moment to put on additional equipment.
“We have instituted these changes to best prepare our first responders, and to keep them healthy, so they can continue to respond to any emergency call,” Smith said.
Wyandotte Fire Chief Daniel Wright said his department has enough personnel protective equipment for its personnel, and will respond to calls using the emergency protocols established by the Wayne County Medical Control Authority.
“I would recommend our citizens look to the Centers for Disease Control, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services websites, to obtain accurate information on COVID-19 and what they need to do on a personal level,” Wright said.
Trenton Fire Chief Dean Creech said that while his personnel have enough personal protective equipment for the coming days or even a few weeks, it is likely that they will run out.
“Our main focus is patient care,” he said. “It is extremely frustrating to have limited access to personal protective equipment to protect our paramedics. N95 masks are the main challenge, and, of course, the most critically needed.”
N95 respirators and surgical masks are tight-fitting personal protective equipment designed to protect the wearer from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face.
Creech urges residents to follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control, as well as the presidential and gubernatorial orders.
“Guidelines put everyone on the right track,” he said. “Washing hands and social distancing are essential.”
Creech said those who call for emergency medical services should be prepared to answer medical screen questions with dispatch personnel and the paramedics who arrive on scene.
“They need to determine what level of protection they need to help treat you,” he said. “Also, consider telemedicine or calling your primary doctor if your issue is not life-threatening.”
Creech said emergency rooms and hospitals will be crowded, and full of seriously ill patients. He also said family members will not be allowed to ride along in an ambulance, in order to limit exposure. He said fire stations are currently closed to non-essential visitors, as well.
Creech urges people to check on their vulnerable neighbors by phone, to shop for them, and to assess their mental well-being.
“For people who think this is ‘just another flu that will run its course,’ I would like people to think about their parents, grandparents and other elderly people in their lives,” he said. “The population is scared, and rightly so.”
Creech said the most vulnerable segment of the population are those who made sacrifices during World War II, who lived through rationing and learned how to help others.
“Now it is our turn to sacrifice, to not hoard, to take care of them and to protect them,” he said. “The government is laying out a blueprint of what we need to do. Now we all need to do our part.”