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Firefighters on the call for COVID patients

Firefighters are used to quickly evolving situations, that’s why they were able to jump into action as first responders once the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Published: Sep. 15, 2020 at 10:43 PM CDT
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LAREDO, Tex. (KGNS) - Firefighters don’t just fight fires, many are also paramedics, EMTs, and registered nurses.

Now, they’re also COVID first responders.

Firefighters are used to quickly evolving situations. That’s why they were able to jump into action once the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“We hope for the best, but prepare for the worst," said Jaime Lopez.

Chief of EMS Training Jaime Lopez has overseen the implementation of the newly COVID-dedicated call center.

He says the Laredo Fire Department receives around 30 calls a day in a 24 hour shift. That’s down by about half since the pandemic began back in March.

A team of nurses also evaluates potential COVID patients over the phone just as any emergency room would.

“They find out their COVID symptoms, if they have any family members that are COVID positive, how long they’ve been COVID positive, what their signs and symptoms are.”

The next step is dispatching paramedics to the scene. The fire department has dedicated two ambulances to COVID-related calls, each equipped with the proper PPE.

In severe cases, they must be ready to intubate the patient.

“If a patient’s airway is so unstable that they need to have a tube inserted into their airway so the medic can take over the airway, that process generates a lot of aerosol particles,” said Captain David Esparza. “This box helps to keep the particles confined.”

Knowing the anatomy from front to back certainly comes in handy during a pandemic.

“We know that with COVID, a lot of patients end up developing lung issues, cardiac issues, brain issues, blood disorders," said EMS instructor Mark Martinez. “What this helps us do is identify exactly where COVID attacks, and once we can tell what a normal lung looks like and an abnormal lung looks like.”

The fire department assesses whether a patient’s condition is severe enough to require hospital treatment.

Another new aspect to the team is case management. This means they will follow up with patients within 24 hours to help set up doctors appointments or even coordinate transportation to pick up medications.

“We don’t want these patients to be left without treatment or follow-up care in case they don’t happen to be transported to one of the hospitals," said Lopez. “It was just our response to a very explosive situation, a very volatile situation. We didn’t really know how bad it would get.”

That’s just a brief look into the process these heroes go through on a daily basis in a constantly changing environment.

Copyright 2020 KGNS. All rights reserved.

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