First responders adjust to life with COVID-19
April 9, 2020
WORLAND — Washakie County Emergency Medical Services has seen a decrease in the number of calls over the past month, according to Director Luke Sypherd.
In an interview Monday regarding the EMS responses to the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), Sypherd said people have and can continue to expect to see the emergency medical technicians wearing more personal protective equipment.
“EMTs will be wearing more frequently masks, eye protection and gowns, to ensure they remain safe and unaffected by the virus. We need these responders to be healthy and able to assist you in your time of need,” he said.
He added that all EMTs will wear masks to every call and on only those with the possible of communicable diseases will they wear the N95 masks.
Regarding masks, face shields and gowns, Sypherd said, “We have adequate supplies for now considering call volume and case load.”
He said they have reusable face shields that can be decontaminated after each use. As for surgical masks that will now be worn for every call, he says he has enough.
The only thing they are low on are the N95 masks, like everyone in the country.
As for the call load, Sypherd said, “The call volume is way down. We’re seeing that in the region, in other parts of the Big Horn Basin. The calls we are getting seem to be true 911 emergencies and fewer calls with non-acute problems.”
He added if people need help they should call and Washakie County EMS will respond.
Why has the case load declined? Sypherd said there could be a number of factors including the fact that people are staying home and social distancing is working for more than just COVID-19, but also for other communicable diseases.
After a call, Sypherd said the county EMS has increased the sanitized requirements for the ambulances. He said each ambulance that goes on a call receives a deep clean daily.
If the EMTs have contact with a suspected COVID-19 patient extra time and caution is used to clean the ambulance, all supplies, equipment, clothing and their hands.
They are using specific cleaning equipment approved by the Environmental Protection Agency to kill coronavirus.
Another change is they are working to try and limit the number of personnel that go into the emergency room.
Staffing also has not been an issue for the volunteer EMS. Sypherd said while they also can use volunteers, the current circumstances have allowed more people to work from home with more flexible schedules. Some EMTs who are not usually available to answer calls during the day are available now.
He said they are also working to keep stress levels low for the volunteers. “The county has been awesome in making sure if we need something they support us financially and operationally to make that happen,” he said.
CHECK QUOTE Sypherd added that his agency started preparing for this in late January as soon as COVID-19 became became more prevalent in the U.S. “We’ve been preparing this for months, as far as protocols go, supplies, training. So, I think considering the circumstances and limitations we have we’re extremely well-prepared to respond.”
Sypherd advises the public to heed the public health guidelines of staying home, social distancing and washing hands. He said when people go out it is easy for them to forget to social distance because they may be happy to visit with someone, but it is important to remember to keep at least six feet apart.
He added he would like to thank the county and incident command team for their leadership and the community for their support, Sypherd said.
He also thanked his EMTs for the sacrifices they make each day by putting themselves at risk, and for their families for the sacrifice they make when an EMT answers a 911 call.
Changes were made to questions that dispatchers asked when they received a 911 call and Sypherd said the changes implemented by public health were quick and effective. “They help protect us and the community.”
Washakie County Emergency Management/Homeland Security Director Kami Neighbors said, “Originally when COVID-19 started, dispatchers were asking about places of travel. She said it became apparent that they had to inquire about travel as well as whether the person had been in contact with a positive COVID-19 patient, if the person had been asked to self-quarantine and if the person had any respiratory issues.w
By asking those questions, first responders know which precautions to take.
Worland Police Chief Gabe Elliott said, “Our dispatchers have done an outstanding job of asking relevant health, travel, and potential exposure related questions from reporting parties prior to sending our officers, EMS, and Fire Department to calls. It’s one way of helping us know what type of personal protective equipment to use prior to arriving on scene. There are national shortages on a lot of our personal protective equipment, therefore we have to be decisive on what type of PPE we use during each situation.”
For local law enforcement, the calls for service have mostly been average, with a slight decrease,
According to Elliott, “Initially, in the first week of this pandemic around the middle of March, we really didn’t see any significant changes in the amount of our calls for service. As time passed and the seriousness of this virus began to sink in for our community and citizens, and the governor began issuing statewide orders, we definitely noticed a decrease in the amount of calls for service for the next couple of weeks.”
He added, however, that recently, they have noticed the number of calls for service have once again increased to about the same amount of calls we normally respond to prior to COVID-19.
Regarding working with the public during the pandemic, Elliott said, “Our community has done a really good job complying with Governor Gordon’s Executive Orders and Directives under these stressful conditions. There have obviously been some issues in our community that both the WPD and the Washakie County Sheriff’s Office have had to intervene to provide guidance to our citizens and businesses, but for the most part our community seems to always find a way to support one another and do what is right.”
Elliott added, “Keep in mind none of us have ever had to go through anything like this, so it’s been a learning curve for everyone. As a first responder we obviously prepare for critical incidents, which includes pandemic training, but it definitely puts everything into perspective when it becomes reality.”
As for changes, Elliott said one of the first one of the first steps local law enforcement agencies implemented were changes to procedures for their officers daily routines.
“The goal was to do everything we could to keep our officers safe from contracting the virus by maintaining social distancing as much as possible, using personal protective equipment, limiting access into our facility, and providing a sanitary workplace including our office, detention center, vehicles, equipment, and, of course, ourselves. Social distancing is very difficult in our line of work, and sometimes impossible, but we are limiting potential exposure as much as we possibly can, while still providing professional police services. This is somewhat difficult for a lot of us, as we want to interact with our community members as much as possible, whether it’s just a handshake or a high five to kid.”
Elliott said with limitations of public access into the law enforcement center, officers will be handling as many non-emergent calls by phone as possible. Visitation to the jail facility has also been suspended.
“I would like to thank our community members and businesses for all of their efforts and sacrifices. Many of you have provided homemade masks to those in need, provided food services to neighbors, first responders, medical professionals and others. Our local businesses have adapted to continue to provide us services that we need and want, and your efforts have not gone unnoticed. I encourage our community members to continue to support our local small businesses and restaurants now and in the coming months,” Elliott said.
As for a statewide response, Wyoming Highway Patrol Sgt. Jeremy Beck, Safety and Training Division, Public Relations and Recruiting, said, The troopers are utilizing any precautions that have been provided including personal protective gear such as safety masks and gloves, especially when they come up on those exhibiting symptoms.
“We’re taking all the precautionary measures we can to ensure the state patrol, troopers on the road as well as our dispatchers are kept safe,” Beck said. “Our troopers are still out patrolling the roads, ensuring the motoring public is as safe as possible, answering calls, dealing with stranded motorists, working and investigating crashes as they come up.”
For the Worland Fire Protection District No. 1 firefighters, Chief Chris Kocher said the department has had to change the way they are doing training to prevent large groups and to be cognizant of proper social distancing.
He said when the firefighters are interacting with the public they are mindful of the social distancing guidelines.
“As we interact with individuals who may or may not be symptomatic we certainly are using additional personal protective equipment, in terms of gloves and masks, to help protect our folks as well,” Kocher said.
He said the department’s supply of PPE is fine at this time, but “in the blink of an eye” they could be depleted. He said they do not have a huge backup of supplies.
As for the number of calls, Kocher said they have had a few wildland calls. “We’ll see what the season brings us. Certainly the potential is there. We’ve got a lot of fuel out there. Wildland, nationally, we are looking at how this will affect, not only us but all of our partners should we have large wildland fires in the area with bringing in extra resources and extra teams. That’s all stuff that will play into it depending on where we are with the COVID-19,” he said.
As for staffing of volunteers, Kocher said, “ We’re always looking for additional volunteers, but certainly as we get calls we are answering them.”
He asks the community as a whole to use common sense and follow the guidance from the CDC and the health professionals.