PULASKI COUNTY, Ark. – First responders are now taking extra precautions to protect themselves from COVID-19. From screening 911 calls to using more protective gear, departments are working to keep their crews healthy.
The West Pulaski Fire Department has five stations covering more than 150 miles and just 50 volunteers.
“In a volunteer department, people are our most precious resource,” West Pulaski Fire Chief Scott Joblin said.
With a highly transmittable virus like COVID-19 spreading across the state, just one of those firefighters catching it could impact the entire department.
“Having one crew that has to be quarantined will impact our ability to respond,” Chief Joblin said.
He says that’s why his crew is taking extra precautions.
“We want them to pause and go through their mind ‘what do I need to be aware of what do I need to observe what questions do I need to ask,'” Joblin said.
It starts with the 911 call. Dispatchers ask questions about travel, who patients have been in contact with and if they have any symptoms related to COVID-19.
“If there are any concern about that, the information is passed on to us by radio so we can prepare before we get on scene,” Joblin said.
That preparation includes typical protective gear like gloves. First responders are adding other equipment to their arsenal.
“The CDC has found that if a responder is wearing a mask or a provider is wearing a mask as well as the patient, the potential for exposure goes way down,” Joblin said.
They use eye protection and surgical gowns too.
“This is just like you’d see an ER nurse wearing,” Joblin said.
Once the fire fighters are done with the call, that gear would be disposed of. Even with these extra measures, Joblin says the public still has to do their part by being 100% transparent with the dispatcher.
“If you have to repeat it multiple times that’s okay. It’s our duty to protect each other at this point,” Joblin said.
Joblin added they are continuing their cleaning practices on trucks, tools and anything that could hold germs. He also says they do have mutual aid agreements with neighboring departments so if a crew were to get quarantined there would be other first responders covering the area.