The coronavirus is impacting how first responders handle medical emergencies.
“We have goggles, N95 masks, gowns, gloves,” said Justin Fleming of the Huntington Beach Fire Department. “That’s a little bit more than what we would have before.”
Fleming has worked in this industry for almost 20 years and has never seen anything like the COVID-19 crisis.
“I’ve been through Ebola, and SARS and a myriad of different things that have come through,” he said. “And this by far is the most challenging.”
To keep safe, Fleming and his staff are now taking extra precautions – especially when it comes to performing CPR. That includes wearing more personal protection equipment than normal and also having dispatch screen if anyone is or was sick before responding to a scene.
“Some of the procedures, we try to do them a little more quickly,” Fleming said. “For safety we also utilize HEPA filters which are high-efficiency particulate air filters that we use on top of the breathing tubes. And that helps filter the virus. That wasn’t something that part of our normal protocol.”
To help the lower the risk for COVID-19 transmission, the American Heart Association has issued a new set of temporary guidelines for first responders performing CPR.
These include special considerations for transport of patients who may have COVID-19, performing in airborne infection isolation rooms, and personnel using respiratory protection.
“Out in the streets, people need to be careful, especially about the mouth-to-mouth respiration,” said William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist with the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Schaffner is encouraging all people to wear protective coverings around their faces while out in public. He says if someone comes in contact with a person needing CPR, it’s best left for a professional.
“I would think call 911,” he said. “That would be the appropriate thing to do.”
Some of those answering these calls for help are experiencing emotional tolls.
“A lot of us have families at home, kids and everything else,” Fleming said. “I live and work in the community that I’m in. Everyone is just nervous and worried. As responders we try to put those emotions aside but personally who isn’t nervous; who isn’t nervous of the unknown.”
Fleming has faith in first responders during this crisis. Moving forward he wants to develop safety procedures for the long haul while also reducing the risk to exposure.
“This virus may change everything,” he said. “I mean we really are still at the beginning of this in how it will impact emergency medical services for the coming years.”