October 23, 2021

Virus changes first responders’ practices, not functions

Taking precautions

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

A man walks a dog in front Cortland Fire Department’s Court Street station in this March 2020 Cortland Standard file photo.

Everyday life in the wake of novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has changed in all aspects. But for first responders, while their jobs remain the same, how they do so isn’t.

“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and protect our people and keep providing the service to the community,” said Wayne Friedman, the chief of the Cortland Fire Department.

Friedman said that before the emergency medical technicians go out for an emergency medical service call, the EMTs get as much information as they can from dispatch on the conditions of the patient and if the patient might be showing symptoms of the coronavirus, including coughing, fever and a shortness of breath.

In those situations, the EMTs may have the patient come to the door of their residence, if they can, and speak to the responders at the door, he said. The EMTs will practice social distancing by standing as far away as possible from the patient while speaking to them.

If the patient cannot come to the door, only one EMT will enter the building instead of two or three that normally go in, Friedman said.

The fire department has shut its doors to the public as well. Educational classes and tours at the department are no longer provided.

Friedman said that these changes have been made to limit the department’s exposure to the members of the public who may have the coronavirus.

“Guys are saying, ‘Wow. That’s a big change and we need to do it,’” Friedman said about the department’s response.

“It’s obviously a concerning issue right now,” said Cortland Police Chief F. Michael Catalano. “There’s a lot of unknowns.”

Like the Cortland Fire Department, the Cortland Police Department has also implemented changes to help protect its members, Catalano said.

The police are limiting entry into the department’s building and try to get information from the public via phone.

For members of the public would absolutely need to enter the department, officers will take their temperature and ask if they have any of the virus’s symptoms.

“We are advising our officers to have as little contact with public as possible,” Catalano said.

Arraignments are only being made for crimes that require court appearances, like violent or sexual acts, he said. For other crimes, the department is trying to use appearance tickets as much as possible.

New bail reforms that limit the categories to where a monetary bail can be given, such as sexual act and violent crimes, have helped limit the number of required appearances in front of a judge, Catalano said.

Physical bookings during arrests, which include close contact during finger printings, will also be delayed as much as possible, though, Catalano said, they would be completed at later time when the threat of the virus is not as prevalent.

Beyond that, the police and fire departments are cleaning their facilities and equipment more frequently.

“We’re trying to operate as normal as possible but there are definitely changes and we have a heightened awareness of our surroundings,” he said.

Trish Hansen, Cortland’s division manager for TLC Emergency Medical Services, an ambulance company, shared Catalano’s sentiment.

“COVID 19 is not the only illness out there,” she said. “There are still motor (vehicle) accidents. There are still everyday calls. That hasn’t changed and that won’t change.”

Responders from the ambulance company have taken steps to prepare for dealing with patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus including wearing protective masks, gloves and gowns.

When the company does respond to a patient with the coronavirus, it will notify the hospital it is heading to what the patient’s symptoms are.

Like the police and fire department, members from the ambulance company have stepped up the number of times they clean daily and are diligent with hand washing and using hand sanitizer.

In addition, the company has been following guidelines from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state’s Department of Health on how to act in regard to the virus, Hansen said.

“It’s a new disease,” she said. “We have to be careful.”

She warned that people should not downplay its effects.

“It’s not the simple flu and that’s what we have to make sure people know,” she said. “If anyone thinks it is, they just have look at Italy and see what’s going on right now.”