Fire departments careful to reduce risk

Geoff Crimmins/Daily NewsAn ambulance from the Moscow Volunteer Fire Department backs into Fire Station 1 downtown after transporting a patient on Thursday in Moscow.

Just about everyone has taken precautions to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, and Moscow and Pullman fire department personnel are no different.

Pullman Fire Department Chief Mike Heston and Moscow Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brian Nickerson said their firefighters and paramedics carry protective equipment, including gloves, masks, eye protection and gowns in case they encounter a patient with coronavirus symptoms, which typically include fever, cough and/or shortness of breath.

“If you’re wearing your proper protective equipment, then the risk for transmission is very, very low unless something fails,” Heston said.

The four articles of protective equipment are also recommended for law enforcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Heston said Whitcom Regional Dispatch Center dispatchers are asking reporting parties if they or others associated with the call have COVID-19 symptoms so first responders know how to approach the fire, medical or related call when they arrive on scene.

Latah County Sheriff Richie Skiles said via text message that Latah County Sheriff’s Office dispatchers are not asking those symptom questions. He wrote that deputies are practicing social distancing.

Once on scene, Heston and Nickerson said a firefighter initiates what Heston referred to as a “doorway survey,” in which the firefighter speaks to the person involved in the call from the entrance to the facility, if possible, while keeping the CDC-recommended 6-foot social distance between the first responder and the patient.

Nickerson said only one of his firefighters enters the facility initially to assess the situation, including asking if the patient has COVID-19 symptoms, while keeping the 6-foot distance.

Whether the patient has symptoms or not, Heston said, a minimal crew of his firefighters enter the building to reduce exposure.

If symptoms are present, Heston and Nickerson said a mask will be provided to the patient if he or she does not have one.

If a patient does not require an emergency transport, Heston said his firefighters make sure the patient is connected with a doctor so he or she can get further instructions and avoid potentially spreading the virus at a hospital.

Heston said Pullman fire stations receive daily cleaning and have restricted access. He said ride alongs and station tours have been temporarily discontinued.

“We’re trying to get to a point where we control who comes into our station and who doesn’t,” Heston said.

Nickerson said his department is trying to use the same ambulance for patients with COVID-19 symptoms to reduce the spread of the virus.

“We’re taking every precaution that we can,” Nickerson said.

Nickerson said his firefighters regularly respond to sick patients but, as of Friday, they had not run into patients who they thought had COVID-19.

Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to gcabeza@dnews.com.

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