ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – It’s an emergency unlike any other for first responders in Central Florida and as the coronavirus continues to spread, workers with Orange County Fire Rescue are making sure they’re prepared inside and out.
Julie Sitnik is the assistant manager for fire rescue communications and took News 6 inside their command center, which typically handles 125,000 calls a year.
“In the past when we had Ebola, SARS, H1N1 -- it’s never gotten this far,” she said. “When we plan for a hurricane, we never really know what the impact is going to be but we have to be prepared for what can take place.”
When someone calls, dispatchers go through a series of questions. But because of the coronavirus, there's a new branch of questions for dispatchers to ask relating to health and travel.
“If a caller calls 911 and they are complaining about difficulty breathing or general illness, we launch that tool and they go through a series of questions,” Sitnik explained. "Our goal in this is not only to gather treatment but to protect our first responders and to pass that information on to them as quickly as possible.
The office is still taking extra steps to protect itself inside, even using a motorized disinfectant spray in their offices. Normally the device, manufactured by AeroClave, is used for cleaning fire trucks and emergency vehicles. But the boundaries have changed for first responders as they handle a crisis spreading faster than any fire they’ve fought before.
The new questions for callers have been in place for a little more than two weeks.
“We get a handful of calls [pertaining to coronavirus] every day,” she said. “The calls have not increased, but they are steady over the past few weeks. I think we’ve learned there is concern out there.”