Protocols in place to protect responders from COVID-19

Scott Derr

LEWISBURG — A series of procedures have been put in place in an effort to protect area emergency responders from potential exposure to coronavirus.

Nicholas Klose, director of Evangelical Regional Mobile Medical Services (ERRMS), said paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) working in the field follow a series of guidelines put in place by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as 911 Public Safety Answering Points for COVID-19.

Milton Fire Department Chief Scott Derr said volunteers with his department are sometimes dispatched to assist on medical calls.

The Milton Fire Department contracts with Evangelical Community Hospital to provide mobile intensive care unit (MICU) services in the Milton area.

Volunteers with the fire department are also dispatched to assist on some medical calls. A volunteer ambulance from the department responds if the MICU is on another call.

“The 9-1-1 center has been doing a good job screening the calls to get better information (about the patient’s condition),” Derr said. “They relay that on to us as best they can... When we receive that information, we take extra precautions (as needed).”

“In the event the 9-1-1 dispatch center did not ask the standard travel history questions when the emergency call was received, ERRMS staff does the same screening as the hospital before getting within six feet of the patient,” Klose said.

“Screening consists of several questions, including the type of symptoms they are experiencing and whether or not they or anyone in their household has traveled outside of their normal community in the past 14 days,” he said.

If a patient is identified as a potential COVID-19 patient, Klose said the paramedics and EMTs put on the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

“This includes a mask, gown, gloves and respirator,” he said. “In addition, the patient is masked for additional containment of the possible virus. If oxygen is needed by the patient, it is provided but a face mask is still applied.”

Derr said volunteers with his department follow the same protocols the hospital has in place.

“In route to the hospital, the emergency department is given multiple notices that a possible COVID-19 patient is on the way to their facility,” Klose said. “This allows them to receive the patient within their operational procedures for the greatest safety for the patient, their staff and the facility at large.”

Additional protocols are followed after a patient who may have COVID-19 is transported to the hospital.

“The ambulance carrying them is taken out of service for approximately one to two hours for proper decontamination and cleaning,” Klose said. “Responding staff also use proper taking-off procedures as well as disposal of their PPE.”

Volunteers with the Milton Fire Department also take additional steps after responding to a call involving a patient who may have COVID-19.

“I talked to the volunteers about bringing extra clothing to the fire station to try to limit what we take home to our families,” Derr explained.

“If we get into a situation where there’s a potential (COVID-19 patient), they are (advised to) bathe and launder their clothing at the fire station and not take it home.”

Members of the Turbot Township Fire Company are also taking precautions on medical calls they assist on in the township.

If the volunteers are advised by dispatch of a potential COVID-19 patient, Swallow said extra protective steps are taken.

“We always wear protective equipment,” he said. “We have gloves, we have gowns, we have all the protective equipment necessary for that call.”

Derr said the community needs to follow all of the social distancing and hygiene guidelines being offered by the CDC.

“I’d like the public to take this seriously,” he said. “It’s the unknown that’s the scary part. We don’t know. Hopefully it passes by quickly, but obviously nobody knows what’s going to happen. Just take precautions.”

Staff writer Kevin Mertz can be reached at 570-742-9671 or email kevin@standard-journal.com.

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