By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — America’s first responders are on the front lines of battling the COVID-19 outbreak, risking their health to protect the population against infection and working hard to slowly control its spread. They are also working hard to keep all their vehicles and equipment clean, ensuring the pathogen will not be spread to new patients should one be transported to the hospital.
Newkirk first responders, including the police department (NPD) and fire department (NFD) which also operates the ambulance service, currently are on lockdown, along with all other city facilities. Only on-duty personnel are allowed inside, which is helping prevent COVID-19 from entering with new personnel. Once the shift begins, the facilities are immediately decontaminated.
“We’re still only allowing on-duty personnel in, so there is nothing new that could be brought in,” said Fire Chief Adam Longcrier. “We’re sanitizing our hands to keep everything clean, so there is nothing new with the changing of shifts.”
When they get an ambulance call, they can determine quickly, before they even leave the station, whether they should wear only their gloves and masks, or wear a full protective suit. It all starts with a few questions, such as symptoms the patient may be experiencing, or whether they have been out of state.
“We ask a lot of questions before we go out. It depends on the answers whether we should suit up,” Longcrier said.
The suit they wear is a full-body Tyvek suit, which is pathogen resistant and also includes respirators and eye goggles.
“They cover our body, so we’re protected from head to toe,” Longcrier said. ‘”We’re doubling our gloves and taping our wrists.”
Once back at the station, they again begin decontamination, which includes the ambulance, all while still wearing the suits. They rely on a special chemical, known as hypochlorous acid, which they obtained from the Blackwell Fire Department. Safe for humans to use, it is lethal for many pathogens, including COVID-19.
“After every call, the ambulance goes into a complete cleaning mode. We continue wearing our suits in decontamination, using hypochlorous acid. It’s safe, and we can spray it on everything,” he said.
They continue wiping down the station after the ambulance is disinfected, he added.
Fire trucks are also kept clean, but since they do not carry ill patients, there is not as much of a threat of infection.
“There isn’t a severe risk with fire trucks, but we’re disinfecting every truck because we do run the engines daily. Sometimes, we have early morning runs, so we are disinfecting fire engines and brush trucks just as a precaution,” he said.
There are some cases where they can’t be sure if there is a risk, such as accidents, and all precautions must be taken, which may involve viewing the scene on arrival in case they do need to suit up.
“There are situations we’re just not going to know, and a lot of those are car accidents. We treat those cases as a life or limb situation, so we be careful there,” he said. “If we don’t know, we’ll enter a house at first, keep 6 ft. back away from people, do an assessment then let the other firefighters know what we have.”
The NPD is likewise on lockdown, but the department is still fully-staffed and the dispatchers are taking phone calls. While all calls will be answered, officers will only respond to emergencies, such as domestic disputes or accidents.
“The door is locked right now. We are only answering emergency phone calls to limit interaction to protect people,” said Police Chief Nolan Tattershall. “All non-emergency calls will be done over the phone”
Officers will continue patrolling the community to keep residents safe, but with a few changes. The officers are wearing face masks and gloves, and routine traffic stops are being handled differently to allow for social distancing.
“Patrol hasn’t changed a whole lot, but we are limiting interaction on traffic stops,” Tattershall said. “We’re more active in social distancing, approaching on the passenger side.”
Like the NFD, the NPD is also taking disinfecting important for all their equipment.
”Every office has to disinfect the car after each call,” Tattershall said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the first responders make adjustments to fight against the spread of illness, but it is these changes that will ensure the safety of both the public and the first responders assisting them.
“We do have protocols in place. Previously, we went into the house and dealt with the patients. Longcrier said. “We’re not doing that anymore.”