COVID-19 challenges emergency workers


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Fire medic Adam Harrington, left, and Lt. Ryan Gault have adjusted to the demands forced by COVID-19.

Adam Palumbo

Father's Day is a day of honoring fatherhood and paternal bonds, as well as the influence of fathers in society. In the United States, we will celebrate Father’s Day on Sunday, June 21. 

However, there will be many fathers who will be celebrating that day while working as Brevard County fire and emergency medical technicians on the frontlines against the deadly coronavirus.

These fathers will be wearing protective gear and following strict protocols in handling calls, and they do so in an attempt to balance helping the public while taking care of their families.

Brevard County Fire Rescue personnel at Station 47 on Murrell Road in Viera wear protective gear and follow new protocols during potential COVID-19 emergency calls. For example:

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.

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, reducing the risk of having the entire crew enter the home.

BCFR is Brevard's ambulance service, often working alongside and sharing protocols with various city firefighting crews. No personnel are sent inside nursing homes or assisted living facilities, save for medical emergencies. All patients from those facilities are brought outside for treatment and transport.

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. If a shortage strikes, equipment will be decontaminated and reused according to protocol.

Lt. Ryan Gault, 41, is a 10-year BCFR veteran. He is the father of two children, Wyatt, 9, and Lilly, 7. He said one of his main duties during this pandemic is looking out for his crew.

“I want to make sure they have the right equipment and the correct information before they go out on a call,” he said. 

Gault added that when he is finished with his shift and returns home, he makes sure he doesn’t spread the virus by changing his clothes in the garage.

Fire medic Adam Harrington, 32, is the father of a 5-year-old boy, Strafford. He said his son doesn’t necessarily understand what’s going on but is teaching him how to stay safe.

“I tell him to wash his hands frequently and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze,” said the six-year veteran. “And I try not to bring my gear home.”

District Chief Chris DiSciascio said BCFR personnel are a lot safer than others because of the new protocols. “We’re doing everything we can to be virus free,” said the 23-year veteran.

This Father’s Day, Gault said he plans to hang out with his kids at the beach and later have a barbecue.

“I just want to be the best dad I can be and be there for them,” he said.

The 50-year-old DiSciascio said fathers should be the rock of their family, especially during this pandemic.

“Don’t get swept up in all the hype,” he said. “Don’t live your lives in fear. “Stay vigilant, stay safe and take care of yourself and family.”