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First Responders Take Steps to Safeguard Themselves & Patients Against COVID-19

Wednesday, March 18, 2020 @ 12:03 AM

Posted by Jill McDermott

Firetruck winterCLARION CO., Pa. (EYT) – As many residents follow the recommendations of the CDC and government officials to avoid coming in contact with other people as much as possible, there is a segment of the population that can’t do that.

(Photo by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)

Our first responders not only come into contact with others as part of their job, but they’re often in contact with those who are sick.

At the Limestone Township Volunteer Fire Department, Assistant Chief 2, Randall Reynolds told they are taking some extra measures in reaction to COVID-19.

“We’re trying to limit our contact with the patient,” he explained. “When it’s possible, we have only one person have actual contact with the patient.”

First responders already use precautions such as wearing gloves and avoiding contact with blood. They’re just adding some measures, especially if the person they’re helping seems to be sick.

“For anybody who’s showing any symptoms, we’re going to use masks and eye protection in addition to what we always do,” Reynolds said. “ We have hand sanitizer on the trucks. Hopefully, it won’t be too much a problem, but we are preparing for it.”

Jefferson County EMS is also taking steps to help prevent exposure to COVID-19.

“When we come on shift, we disinfect the truck,” EMT Tyler Bender said.

The procedure is in place in both Brookville and Punxsutawney.

“We disinfect every inch of the ambulance from the stretcher to our seats.”

Mitigation efforts aren’t limited to the first responders themselves. People who call 911 are questioned about whether they have cold or flu symptoms, so ambulance crews know to use extra precautions if those symptoms are present.

The ambulance is once again disinfected after each call is cleared.

“We’re making sure that everything is being taken care of with disinfecting and taking proper precautions, so we’re not transferring germs from patient to patient or taking anything home with us,” Bender noted.

He also said they’re continually monitoring updates from the Pa. Department of Health and the C.D.C. so they’re aware of any new procedures.

EMTs are also taking what is known as reverse precautions. That includes putting a mask on the patient, to prevent the spread of germs through a cough or sneeze.

Even knowing there could be a risk, Bender said EMTs are dedicated to the community, and they’ve trained for possibilities such as an outbreak of this kind.

As with anyone else, any EMT who is not feeling well is encouraged to stay home rather than come to work.

Oil City Fire Chief Mark Hicks said he has also instituted precautions dealing with COVID-19.

Visitors are not allowed at fire stations. That includes family members.

“We’re even making sure that our personnel that is off-duty stay away don’t come in,” Hicks said. “That’s to limit our exposure to everybody.”

For medical situations in a home, one person goes in first to assess the situation.

“If that person determines it’s a situation where the virus may be present, or they’re (the patient) exhibiting symptoms of a virus, the next person will come in with full Personal Protective Equipment or P.P.E. That’s basically the N95 mask, goggles, gloves and full protection to limit our exposure.”

Employees are checked for a fever when they arrive for their shift and again when they leave. Any employee who is not feeling well is encouraged to stay home.

All fire fighting apparatus and fire stations are disinfected twice a day with bleach.

Hicks said they’ve been monitoring the situation for more than a week, expecting that steps would need to be put in place as the virus moved into the state.

“There have been pandemic plans in place since a little bit after Sept. 11, 2001,” he noted. “It was evident that we weren’t prepared for any kind of vast emergency when that occurred. Since then, we had the swine flu that helped kick the pandemic planning, so we’ve been considering something like this for close to 20 years now.”

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