Two Santa Rosa County EMS first responders self-quarantined last week due to potential exposure to COVID-19.
Lifeguard Ambulance Director of Operations Dwayne Tullos confirmed the two employees are in quarantine but have not tested positive for the novel coronavirus at this time. Details about the individuals were not shared.
First responders on the front lines of this pandemic are taking steps to limit potential exposure Tullos said. He said responders are trained and supplied with appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE) such as N95 masks, gloves and gowns.
“Once a 9-1-1 call is initiated, emergency dispatchers are instructed to perform a series of questions to ensure patients are not experiencing signs or symptoms of COVID-19,” he said. “Once on-scene, first responders will also initiate questioning to determine if additional protective equipment and precautions are needed, unless they were instructed prior to arrival that the patient was a potential candidate for COVID-19.”
Midway Fire Chief Jonathan Kanzigg said they have not had any firefighters in quarantine due to potential on-the-job exposure, but the company did have three employees in self-isolation due to potential exposure of family members.
All three have since tested negative for COVID-19 and returned to work. Kanzigg said Ascension Sacred Heart Medical Group has been working with the fire department to fast track first responder tests for the disease, allowing them to get back to work faster.
To limit potential exposures, fire stations have been closed to visitors and firefighters throughout Santa Rosa County are limiting response to non-essential calls.
Navarre Beach Fire Chief Danny Fureigh explained that calls such as bumps and bruises frequently do not need firefighters to respond like a cardiac arrest might. Dispatchers are screening calls to ensure that additional first responders are not exposed when not necessary.
On less emergent calls, only two of the four firefighter team responding will go inside the structure to ensure less exposure in the event of illness. Firefighters continue responding to fire alarms, smoke and structure fires in the same manner.
Firefighters are also wearing appropriate PPE including masks, eye protection and gloves. When calls come across the radio scanner, the firefighters are alerted if the individual has had symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and reminded to wear their PPE.
And there are precautions when they return to the station.
“We have set up cleaning stations at the entrance to the fire station, and we bought a pair of crocs for everyone. They do not wear duty boots into the fire station,” Kanzigg said.
Only after removing potential contamination can firefighters reenter the station, thus limiting the potential spread of COVID-19.
Holley Navarre Fire District is taking similar precautions.
“No one has been exposed on duty that we’re aware of,” administrative assistant Dee May said. “They’re being very careful and taking all the necessary precautions, and we’ve been very fortunate so far.”
Fureigh confirmed that Navarre Beach Fire has had no employees quarantined due to potential COVID-19 exposure.
First responders and health professionals are at the front lines of COVID-19 response but keeping these individuals on the job is essential to maintaining emergency response and care infrastructure.
Kanzigg said the community has stepped up to support first responders.
“The community has been awesome,” he said. “Rollins Distillery donated hand sanitizers. Dickey’s offered free take out sandwiches for all responders in uniform. That was a generous offer for our crews.”