taking the risks in stride with COVID-19: First responders handle new protocols

taking the risks in stride with COVID-19: First responders handle new protocols
Paramedic in full PPE

By Kaitlyn Clark

The Haldimand Press

While most people run from danger, first responders run headfirst into danger to help their fellow community members. Whether it’s a fire or a medical emergency, every time a responder gets on scene there are always risks to recognize and minimize for both themselves and the people they are helping. 2020 has only further complicated matters with the introduction of COVID-19.

As early as April Haldimand County paramedics shared their new protocols to help reduce transmission of COVID-19. Decked out in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), only one medic will enter the home if the patient’s condition allows the wait. The medic inside then determines the required level of PPE by screening the patient for symptoms or risks of COVID-19, such as a cough or recent travel outside the country. Once that is determined, both paramedics will don the appropriate PPE, put a surgical mask on the patient, and move forward with treatment. The process takes approximately two to four minutes, depending on the amount of PPE required.

“We understand that when you call 911 and an ambulance arrives you expect instantaneous entry into your home. Under normal circumstances this is the process, however, the pandemic has required us to implement some additional protective measures. Keeping our paramedics and patients safe is our number one priority,” said Jason Gallagher, Manager of Emergency Services & Fire Chief.

This priority remains true for other first responders as well.

“From an organizational perspective, the health of our people is our top priority. OPP members have been provided with and trained to use appropriate OPP-issued Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other safety practices to prevent the acquisition and re-transmission of any viruses, including COVID-19, during the course of their duties,” explained Media Relations Officer Rod LeClair. “Frontline OPP members are regularly exposed to situations and interactions with the public who may or may not be afflicted with viruses in their daily work lives.”

LeClair said that along with being trained in the use of PPE, officers are also advised to follow public health best practices whenever it is practical to do so, such as maintaining a two metre distance during traffic stops, avoiding contact with people who are sick, and washing or sanitizing their hands often. Additionally, public access to all OPP detachments and administrative facilities has been restricted, although they remain open “with enhanced screening to ensure public health and safety.”

While you may think of firefighters as being somewhat apart from the public – fighting fires while the public stands far back – Deputy Fire Chief Rodger Hill says that absolutely everything in their protocols process has been affected by COVID-19.

“At the fire halls themselves, when you come in you have to sign in and go through screening, plus sanitizing your hands and putting on a mask. Whether it’s just to take a look, do training, or for a response, that’s the first level,” explained Hill.

For those in training, social distancing and mask requirements are in effect at all times. For those responding to a call, a surgical mask must be worn in the truck on the way to a call.

“For everyday calls, like burn complaints and medical calls, we limit four to a truck. For structure fires our big trucks allow six to a vehicle,” continued Hill. He added that screening is always done for COVID-19 by the dispatcher, and that information is relayed to the fire crews so they can determine appropriate PPE, which Hill said can be similar to the paramedics. All firefighters have been trained on the public health best practices mentioned above.

When asked how the firefighters are handling the additional complications from COVID-19, Hill said, “As a whole they’re coping pretty well. The job is still there to do. It’s an extra challenge. At first they were nervous, sort of the ‘what-if’ thing, especially since they have their own jobs to go to because they’re volunteers. There is still some of that, but now with the protocols we have, the level of protection and PPE, and if they have concerns they can talk to us in management, I think that’s the main thing. Everybody is affected and copes differently though, just like with different types of calls.”

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