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How the front line is doing

March 25, 2020
J.T. Whitehouse , The Town Crier

The Western Reserve Joint Fire District is on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic and has taken special precautions to protect personnel and their families.

"The FD itself relies on volunteers, many of whom have children or elderly parents at home," said WRJFD Chief David "Chip" Comstock. "These volunteers have to be careful in responding to calls so as to not spread the virus at home. We transported one person yesterday with difficulty breathing. My concern is also that the more our crews are exposed, the more likely the virus spreads within the FD. We could wipe out the entire FD if not careful."

Among some of the steps the district and Comstock have put in place is the temporarily canceled in-person training in lieu of on-line training. Also, having fewer people check out the equipment and vehicles to make sure they are ready, and not accepting visitors at any station, although telephone calls are being accepted by office staff, which has been reduced.

"The FD is trying to balance fulfilling our obligation to the public with the need to protect the personnel," Comstock said.

When a call does come in, the first step is to have the dispatcher triage the calls.

"Because of the situation, we can't respond to every call for assistance, especially when not medically justified," Comstock said. "This is especially true where the hospitals do not want persons with fevers and coughs to go to hospitals, but are referring them to flu clinics (like the one in Boardman) instead. If a person is having a severe problem, such as breathing, EMS will respond and will triage the person at the scene."

The Chief said as far as supplies go, the WRJFD has a limited supply of masks that are not the respirators that are preferred. He added that gloves and gowns are also very limited and new supplies are unlikely to be available for a up to 60 days. He said that fact alone is the reason not to continue with non-essential or elective surgeries.

On ambulance service, Poland Village and Township mainly relies on AMR, but WRJFD does have a back up ambulance for transport. In any case, when an EMS call does come in, a severe breathing problem will be transported to the ER (emergency room). The ER, according to Comstock, will treat the conditions, but will not be able to test for the virus. Those who want to go to the hospital will be turned away and sent to a flu clinic or back home to self-quarantine.

When the WRJFD responds to an EMS call, the crew is required to sterilize before taking another call.

"We attempt to sterilize/decontaminate the vehicle after any suspected illness that may be communicable," he said. "Personnel should also clean-up, which may include showering and changing clothes."

Comstock added, "I think that there is a real dilemma that exists between protecting your family and performing your duty. As for residents, I do not believe they yet understand how this issue may affect the first responder community and the health care profession. The pandemic has not yet hit, and I think we are more in that stage of waiting anxiety than anything else. I think the time will come when people are going to resort to self-help, and by that I mean there may be a delay of ambulances given either the volume of calls and/or the turn-around time to disinfect/decontaminate-in which case the fastest way to the hospital may be to have a family member transport, if they are able to do so."

While responding to the Town Crier questions, Comstock learned that one member is now under 14-day quarantine relating to his full-time job.

"We do not believe there is any exposure to the other station personnel at this time, but this goes to show how a station can be wiped out quickly," he said.

The steps and care taken by the WRJFD has not went unnoticed. Fire District Board Chairman Anthony Lattanzio said, "As this year's Chairman of the WRJFD Board of Directors, I am extremely impressed with the way Chief Comstock and the rest of our Department leadership have reacted to these unfortunate circumstances. They have thus far, and continue to be, proactive and comprehensive in their approach to prepare for the potential impacts of this pandemic."



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