By Ron Ayotte, Contributing Writer
Region – Fire/EMS and police officers are on the front lines for any emergency; that includes the current COVID-19 pandemic. Members of the command staffs of local fire departments have been busy trying to keep up with the changes based on information from the Centers for Disease Control on the federal level, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the medical control directors of the area hospitals (the UMass Memorial Hospital system, Framingham Union and other area hospitals they may be required to transport to) as well as the public health departments in their communities.
Officials from several local departments shared information about protocols now put in place to deal with the pandemic.
“A caller is asked if they or anyone in the home has flu-like symptoms, and, if yes, one Firefighter/EMT or Firefighter/Paramedic will go inside and assess the patient,” said Southborough Fire Department Chief Steve Achilles. “We have also been working with Laurie Chamberlain, the town’s Public Health nurse to identify those addresses of residents who are self-quarantining themselves and those who have tested positive for COVID-19. These are put into a database so we can protect ourselves should we have to respond.”
Chief David Parenti from Northborough Fire noted that “This has made our responses to medical calls more difficult. We have to focus on what is going on. We have had to update our coronavirus protocols 11 times since March 10, and those protocols can change by the hour based on information we are receiving. “
Northborough Fire runs an Ambulance and a Squad to medical calls for a total of four personnel responding.
“If we have a positive response to any of the questions asked, only two personnel will don the personal protective equipment (PPE) and enter the home. If the patient can come to the door, only one Firefighter/EMT or Paramedic will make contact with the patient,” he said.
Achilles stated that “To protect our personnel and the public, frequent cleaning of the station is done by the firefighters during their tour of duty, and at shift change. The apparatus responding get cleaned and disinfected after every call.”
In Marlborough, as well as elsewhere, the fire stations are in “lockdown mode,” with little or no public access for the protection of both the firefighters and the public to limit any exposure.
Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Gogan stated that “While we are still responding to all emergencies, response protocols are being changed to limit exposure to our personnel. We are screening our employees as they come into work, using one door for entry into the stations. The stations are being cleaned daily, and we are good as far as our personal protective equipment goes.”
Hudson Fire Chief Bryan Johannes said that although they are in lockdown mode to limit exposure, “Of course, if someone drives in with an emergency, we will assist them.”
“We are also cleaning and sanitizing the stations using mist blowers,” he added.”
The chiefs all emphasize that residents should do their part by following established protocols such as hand washing and social distancing. They also remind residents that if they call 911, for the protection of the first responders and hospital personnel, it is important that the resident be truthful and disclose if they or a family member are having any COVID-19 symptoms.
Ron Ayotte is the former Marlborough Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief.