First responders meet challenge of social distancing and providing service

Published 10:54 am Saturday, April 4, 2020

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By Dawn Burleigh

Orange Leader


As everyone is focused on the latest information on COVID-19, first responders are, well, responding.

First on the scene when someone is faced with a personal tragedy from theft of personal property, a heart attack or other traumatic injuries, Acadian Ambulance, Police Departments and Fire Departments are following social distancing to help flatten the curve.

Many state and federal guidelines caution EMS professionals to assume that all patients are “hot,” or carrying the virus, until proven that they are clear, according to a press release from Acadian Ambulances.  Unfortunately, the severe shortage of protective personal equipment (PPE) does not allow the luxury of suiting up both members of an ambulance crew for every patient, and agencies must find creative ways to conserve the vital gear. 

“We are responding different than normal,” Acadian Ambulance Operations Manager Eddie Burleigh said. “We respond to every call, regardless of the nature.”

If a person is able to walk, EMS will ask the person to meet them outside.

“If they cannot meet us outside, only one medical will go inside and access the patient while keeping a six-foot distance,” Burleigh said. “There are some things which require us to get closer such as taking their temperature. Once screened, the patient is treated as normal. The second man will have no contact with the patient unless it is to help get them on the stretcher.”

Burleigh added that everyone is concerned with the coronavirus.

“We are doing our part to prevent the spread,” Burleigh said.

While the ambulance service is responding, extra procedures are in place if the person may potentially have COVID-19.

“The responder has to go through additional decontamination to our already stringent decontamination,” Burleigh said. 

After every call, anything that was touched is sanitized including the stretcher. Burleigh said those measures have been enhanced since the coronavirus appeared. 

“We all need to adhere to the guidelines, not just medical personal,” Burleigh said.

Guidelines such as:

  • Social distancing
  • Stay at home
  • If sick, call the doctor
  • If you think you may have COVID-19, call the local public health department before heading to the emergency room or calling an ambulance to get recommendations first. 

“If it is an emergency, still call,” Burleigh said. 

Since Stay at Home, Work from Home orders were announced, ambulance and van calls have decreased.

“They are still running,” Burleigh added. “People are still needing to see their doctor. Although elective surgeries have decreased.”

Orange Police Chief Lane Martin sent a memo out to reiterate social distancing when possible, according to Detective Robert Enmon.

“We are taking reports over the phone when possible,” Enmon said.

This did not mean less police were on the streets.

“We have heavy patrols on the streets,” Enmon said. “Half of my detectives are also on patrol.”

Each officer has the personal protection equipment to use if needed and are encouraged to fully gear up if needed.

“They are encouraged to use the PPE as they feel the need,” Enmon said.

Enmon added the calls the department receives are the same type of calls as before the orders were issued.

“Orange Police Department is here 24 hours,” Enmon said. 

The lobby is currently closed, and citizens are strongly encouraged to call by phone if the police are needed.

City of Pinehurst Fire Chief Shon Branham said firefighters use airpacks when at a fire, so they are not breathing the same air as others on the scene.

“When we go on a call for medical, we have a full face mask and cover everything on us,” Branham said. “Afterwards, everything goes into a bio bag to be disposed of.”

Safety first has always been a priority for firefighters as they face a raging fire.

“We train on this constantly,” Branham said. “Training in the classroom has become more extensive for safety first. Protocols may change but it will not change the care they are provided.”

So while first responders continue to serve our communities, they are just doing it a little different as we all try to flatten the curve on the coronavirus.