Coronavirus: Brevard EMTs report jump in possible COVID-19 emergency calls
Dispatchers screening calls so first responders can be prepared
BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Unlike brightly illuminated flames seen at a burning home, an invisible enemy is prompting Brevard County Fire Rescue personnel to wear protective gear and follow new protocols during potential COVD-19 emergency calls.
Since early February, BCFR ambulance crews have responded to 71 emergency calls from people experiencing coronavirus-like symptoms, said Orlando Dominguez, EMS assistant chief.
The pace has increased. During the four-day stretch from Saturday to Tuesday, BCFR fielded 24 possible COVID-19 calls. That represents 34% of the total, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
“There’s a lot of folks that are scared. We were here before the pandemic. We’re here during the pandemic. And we’re going to be here for Brevard County residents after the pandemic,” Dominguez said, standing inside an ambulance bay at Fire Station 46 in Cocoa.
"If they need us, if we're called upon to assist them, that's what we do," Dominguez said.
Friday, BCFR officials sent an 11-minute COVID-19 EMS response training video to Brevard hospitals, cities and towns demonstrating how they are handling these IS calls, or "infectious surveillance."
• Dispatchers are screening 911 callers for possible COVID-19 symptoms using a list of questions, including: “Do you have a fever? Do you have a persistent cough? Do you have difficulty breathing? Have you traveled outside the country the past 14 days?”
• After arriving on scene, one firefighter/EMT dons personal protective equipment (PPE), including goggles, gloves, mask and white medical gown. In some cases, a protective Tyvek "bunny suit" is worn.
• The firefighter/EMT typically enters “the hot zone” and makes initial contact with the patient, reducing risk of having the entire crew enter the home.
• Patients on IS calls are transported to a hospital emergency room. Afterward, the ambulance remains out of service until it is fogged with disinfectant spray to kill viruses. This decontamination process takes about 30 minutes.
"Once they get the patient to the hospital, and they hand off the patient and everything, the rescue is parked to the side. And then that's when we come in and decon the unit," said Mark Weiss, BCFR infectious control officer.
BCFR is Brevard's ambulance service, often working alongside and sharing protocols with various city firefighting crews. During a Melbourne City Council special meeting Tuesday, Melbourne Fire Chief Chuck Bogle said his department is not sending personnel inside nursing homes, save for medical emergencies.
"Otherwise, we're trying to meet them at the door so we can minimize our exposures. Because one exposure coming into our house could wipe out the whole house — three shifts," Bogle said of the new coronavirus.
Dominguez said no BCFR personnel have tested positive for the coronavirus. About a week ago, he said a crew was placed on 14-day quarantine after a patient tested positive in the Palm Bay area.
BCFR responded to six IS calls Saturday, six Sunday, seven Monday and five Tuesday. The first presumptive positive case of coronavirus in Brevard County was announced March 16.
If IS calls continue to rise in Brevard, Dominguez said his agency will implement a “treat and release” protocol where healthier patients are advised to quarantine at home, rather than go to the emergency room.
BCFR personnel are getting their temperatures taken twice per day, at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
PPE is discarded after every possible coronavirus call, Dominguez said. If a shortage strikes, equipment will be decontaminated and reused according to protocol.
"Right now, we're pretty much holding our own," Dominguez said of PPE supplies. "But that is always in the back of your mind, that as this pandemic continues to grow — and what they're saying as this apex, this wave starts hitting Florida — certainly it's going to become more of a challenge."
Wednesday, BCFR officials tweeted thanks to Home Depot stores in West Melbourne and Merritt Island for donating nearly 300 N95 masks.
Copyright 2020 Florida Today