We sat down with Board Member and firefighter/paramedic Ryan Majcen to better understand how COVID-19 is changing the way first responders do their jobs now and in the future.
Q: To the best of your understanding, how are departments adapting to PPE scarcity?
A: Well, depending on the state and the way EMS is organized, departments are working with State managed stockpiles to allocate PPE to departments with the highest demand.
On the ground we are trying to limit exposure of the virus to each item of PPE. What that looks like is, while you may have 6 people responding- only two may initially approach the patient while the others hang back until we are sure they will be needed. We are also finding that the N95 masks are really only good for 5 exposures. The industry is trying to evolve techniques for decontaminating the masks, and looking further into the future- seeking products that are designed in such a way that they do not require immediate disposal after use.
Q: What precautions are you now required to take that you did not have to consider prior to the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: Things change by the day, as they should. Each week we are trying to lay out better and better guidelines as new information becomes available, we have the opportunity to continuously improve our practices. Dispatchers are asking more in-depth questions regarding respirations and fever so that responders get a heads up before arriving.
Q: Have the number of fires or other health emergencies you have been responding to declined since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic?
A: Call volumes have actually remained manageable and in some places even dropped compared to this time of year. More people staying home does result in fewer accidents, however we do not want people who do actually need help refraining from contacting EMS for emergencies unrelated to COVID-19.
Q: Have you heard of many instances where departments in your area are facing a shortage due to the pandemic? How has this changed your department’s responsibilities?
A: Fortunately I have not, IAFF state chapters seem to be doing a great job working with representatives to assist with distribution of PPE to other departments.
Q: Have you responded to any COVID-19-related emergencies?
A: Yes, I have responded to at least 10-12 confirmed COVID-19 related calls. Obviously when someone calls, they’ve yet to be tested. However hospitals have been great at notifying us of patients that test positive later on. I’ve responded to over 3 dozen calls with COVID-19 symptoms and signs- and that’s at my firehouse alone, I can’t imagine what kind of numbers departments are dealing with.
Q: Is there anything you can share about the status of the average COVID-19 patient upon arrival? Was there specific provocation that worsened their condition or was it more along the lines of a slow decline?
A: Everybody seems to be showing different signs and symptoms in response to the virus. It’s hard to pinpoint symptoms and signs that strongly indicate you have the virus other than respiratory distress however other medical problems cause the same thing. For example we currently have 4-5 members of the dept out for COVID-19. Their signs and symptoms varied greatly. Some were achy, some had their sense of smell and taste affected, others had breathing problems and increased heart rate. Everyone seems to be affected differently by this virus.
Q: How has the pandemic changed your day to day experience on the job?
A: This is an unprecedented time. We are all aware of being in uncharted territory. Personally I have been affected by becoming more conscious about washing my hands and the different ways I could potentially transmit the virus to my family. It really helps you check on the things you take for granted.
As a department, it has changed the things we can do. Training opportunities are limited because of social distance guidelines. We cannot do public education or inspect buildings either. We are pretty much in the wait and see phase right now and for the foreseeable future.
Get to know more about Ryan Majcen as the newest Board Member of Firefighter and EMS Fund. Executive Director Nile Porter sat down with him to talk about his life and experiences that make him a great member of the team. Read the interview here.