The Longboat Key Fire Rescue Department is taking several precautionary measures to protect first responders.
Four members of the Longboat Key Fire Rescue Department are in isolation because of exposure to COVID-19, according to Fire Chief Paul Dezzi.
Dezzi said the members will remain in isolation for the next 14 days. Members of the department who have not been exposed to coronavirus are getting paid overtime to fill the void, Dezzi said.
“We are stressing to our own personnel to use cautionary measures on each call we put in place,” Dezzi said.
The precautionary measures include a specific batch of questions when someone calls 911 to prepare the responding crews. The questions from 911 calltakers include:
- Have you had the flu?
- Have you been out of town?
- How long have you been sick?
- Do you have a fever?
If the caller responds “yes” to the questions, it alerts the dispatcher to let first responders know they might have to wear protective equipment, including eye protection, a mask, gloves and a gown before entering a residence.
Even with this protocol, Dezzi said first responders are treating every call as if there is a COVID-19 patient.
A fire truck will wait outside while one of the first responders enters the home wearing the protective equipment and while maintaining a 6- to 10-foot distance. If the first responder determines the patient could be positive, that person alerts the rest of the responding crew that they need to wear their protective equipment.
Dezzi said the first responders are also communicating with patients by using Apple’s videoconferencing system FaceTime.
“So if we use FaceTime, we could use it prior to getting on scene or when we arrive on scene," Dezzi said. "We can actually talk to the patient from inside the ambulance or even from the outside and give them some direction."
Dezzi said the department has never used FaceTime before for its operations. Using FaceTime is not mandatory for first responders or patients.
As of Friday, the department has also implemented a policy that temporarily suspends firefighters from working side jobs in health care. It includes working in an emergency room, in the private sector or for private ambulance services.
On Wednesday, Dezzi sent an email to Longboat Key organizations asking for help in finding personal protective equipment for firefighters and paramedics.
Specifically, Dezzi is looking for Tyvek suits, masks and protective gloves, which are used in a variety of industries. Dezzi hasn’t received any responses to his email yet.
“There’s a possibility if this COVID-19 continues, that we might not have the proper personal protective equipment that’s necessary for first responders,” Dezzi said.
Dezzi said Longboat Key has requested the protective equipment from the state, but has not received any of it yet.
“We have a stack of all the equipment in our warehouse here at the fire department,” Dezzi said. “It’s limited. It’s not endless.”
Dezzi stressed it’s important for everyone to remain patient amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“One of the things we've noticed is that every time a fire truck pulls up to a building or an ambulance pulls up to a building, we have many people come outside and are there,” Dezzi said. “ We've never had this happen before.”
Dezzi asked for people to give first responders space to operate.
Coronavirus testing sites have also started to pop up in the area; Manatee County opened its first drive-thru COVID-19 testing site on Thursday and Sarasota County’s site opens Friday. However, visitors must be referred by a physician and have a prescription.
As of Friday morning, data from the Florida Department of Health shows Manatee County has 25 confirmed cases of coronavirus and Sarasota County has 34. The positive tests include a resident who lives in Seaplace and is a member of Temple Beth Israel on Longboat Key and a resident of the Privateer condominium complex. A resident of Grand Bay also relayed through friends a positive test result.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows more than 25,000 people have died from coronavirus, including 29 in Florida.