NY Responders Ask Callers for COVID-19 Warnings

March 19, 2020
Firefighters and other responders in Niagara County are asking anyone calling in an emergency to warn them of their coronavirus status before they arrive.

Editor's note: Find Firehouse.com's complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic here.

Firefighters and other first responders are asking residents to let them know their status with COVID-19 before they respond to an emergency at their door.

In a post online, Miller Hose Fire Co. asked those under quarantine, self-imposed or mandatory, to put a sign or note on their front door, or to specify their condition during their 911 call.

"We need to protect our crews so that they will be able to continue to meet the emergency needs of the community," read the post. "Elsewhere, there have been entire fire departments quarantined after they have responded to quarantined homes and were not alerted before entering. Those first responders are now unavailable to help anyone for at least 14 days."

For first responders, like Falls firefighters, there is the concern about answering calls for medical assistance. Falls Fire Chief Joe Pedulla said his department has issued new protocols in response to the coronavirus.

"Since the introduction of this virus, we're screening and qualifying our calls against the national standards for coronavirus," the fire chief said. "If it's a suspected case (of COVID-19), then we're asking the person to meet us at their front door and we're taking them outside and placing a face mask on them."

Pedulla said firefighters are responding to calls in full turnout gear, with face masks and eye protection.

The fire chief urged people who think they may be exhibiting the symptoms of coronavirus to contact their doctor before anyone else.

"I'm happy to see the public is taking this seriously," Pedulla said, "If we follow the recommendations (of public health officials) we can minimize the impact as much as we can. If we don't (follow the recommendations), it will be bad. The thing we're really stressing is distance, keep your distance."

Many first responders in the area are dispatched directly through the Niagara County's Sheriffs Office. Acting Sheriff Michael Filicetti explained how these first responders could be notified to potential danger involving COVID-19.

"First off, for any Niagara County Public Health quarantine, we have a list and it's in the system," he said. "So, any dispatch would be notified of that before they responded. Second, any self-imposed quarantine that is is not known, we update by asking a series of screen questions when it comes in, and that goes out with the dispatch.

Filicetti noted that questions could include what kind of symptoms the caller might have.

On the law enforcement side, Filicetti said, deputies and police officers are now being fit tested for M95 masks when responding to possible COVID-19 situations in the community, as well as for officers in correctional facilities. Local fire stations also are equipped with protective garments for when they come in contact with those in need who may also be carrying the COVID-19 virus.

"We have a supply of masks that we wear," said North Tonawanda Fire Chief Joe Sikora. "We do have eye protection and gowns that we wear. We're taking all the precautions that were recommended, that are trickling down from the state level to the county level to each municipality."

In the post, Miller Hose Fire Co. said there is an "ample supply of protective equipment for our firefighters and for a patient in the event we got to a call where there is the potential for exposure to COVID-19," but any information coming prior to responding to the emergency is helpful to first responders.

"We want them to notify us before showing up," Ollcott Fire Chief Steve Miller said. "Let dispatch know of any recent travel and what kind of symptoms they have, or at the very least put something on the door."

"We're trying to protect our people," Filicetti said. "But we've got to keep going to each call."


©2020 the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (Lockport, N.Y.)

Visit the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (Lockport, N.Y.) at lockportjournal.com

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