NKF&R Firefighters Charlie Hough and Hayden Smallbeck wearing personal protective equipment. Photo courtesy NKF&R.

NKF&R Firefighters Charlie Hough and Hayden Smallbeck wearing personal protective equipment. Photo courtesy NKF&R.

Emergency responders are fighting COVID-19 on the front lines

Amidst the continually-changing COVID-19 pandemic, North Kitsap Fire & Rescue is still out serving on the front lines while implementing some additional measures and safety protocols when responding to respiratory concerns.

NKF&R Assistant Fire Chief Rick LaGrandeur said crews have not changed the way they respond to calls other than the additional precautions and procedures that need to be taken for patients that could be infected with COVID-19. On any standard medical call, the department’s personal protection requires emergency responders to wear gloves and eye protection. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, all emergency responders dealing with a respiratory issue are required to additionally wear a gown and an N-95 mask.

“When our tones go out, our folks have been able to respond as they normally have,” LaGrandeur said. “Folks may see more of a delay of our folks getting to the front door. Our personnel are having to take the time to put on the additional PPE that they wouldn’t normally wear.”

LaGrandeur said the department currently has enough protective gear, but that could change if the nature of this virus outbreak ramps up in the near future.

“We had a stock and still do have a stock of the PPE that’s needed for treating these types of patients. We’re getting pretty low, we actually got a small order of some stuff in today. We’re staying slightly ahead of it. The good news is we are seeing a greater percentage of patients that require additional respiratory precaution but our call volume as a whole is not going up, it’s staying at about what we normally expect on a day-to-day basis. In fact, some days it’s been quite a bit slower.”

“We definitely have enough to get through right now and our projection is that we’re OK, but that’s based on our current activity level. If this thing happens to ramp up some more and we see a much larger number of people getting sick and needing medical attention, that can obviously change.”

NKF&R is currently conducting daily medical screenings for employees to ensure that no one is coming to work sick, according to LaGrandeur. One of the department’s volunteer responders tested positive for COVID-19 and was last at work on March 10, which was a regularly scheduled volunteer drill night. The affected individual has not been in the department since that day.

The other members who attended the drill have been notified and none of them have reported symptoms of COVID-19, LaGrandeur said. The volunteer responder served as one of the department’s tender operators who drives the water supply apparatus to respond to fires. The member does not respond to medical calls.

“I found out on Saturday, March 21 about the member and sent out notification to all of our department members that day,” LaGrandeur said. “The affected member is currently in quarantine at home. We do not have any reason to believe that any other department members need to be tested at this time.”

Perhaps the biggest dilemma facing NKF&R is trying to adapt accordingly to the ever-changing crisis, which can happen daily or even hourly.

“The one thing we’ve really had to do is try and process just the massive amount of information that comes in very, very rapidly,” LaGrandeur said. “It is changing on a daily basis. When we first started, we knew very little, just like the public, about how this is going to impact us and really what it did to people medically. We deal with sick patients, it’s part of what we do on a daily basis. This is a whole different arena because we didn’t know how exactly it was going to affect our patient care or how transmittable it was from person to person and to us as providers. That’s been the biggest challenge is just trying to wrap our heads around everything that’s coming at us at about 100 miles per hour.”

Although most of the county’s businesses are currently shut down, LaGrandeur explained how essential it is for the department to continue operating efficiently while taking the proper safety precautions during this outbreak.

“Our whole mission here is to be able to respond when people need us. Even though activity level in our communities is down right now, when people call 911… we still want to be able to respond to all the different kinds of events that we go to. This has greatly impacted our response to medical alarms and that’s generally 60 percent of what we do. The rest of the types of calls that we go to, we still want to maintain our ability to do that.”

Additionally, the department has suspended most of its non-emergency interactions including the closure of all its fire stations to the public until further notice. NKF&R will also not be participating in public events, according to a press release. In the meantime, folks are advised to fill out their own outdoor burning permits through Community Connect and provide additional information about your home and family to better assist in the event of an emergency.

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