December 2, 2021

Coping with coronavirus

First responders brave anxiety dealing wth outbreak

Photo provided by Meghan Bangs

George Tamborelle is a paramedic supervisor with Bangs Ambulance in Ithaca. Tamborelle, like other ambulance officials, said medics and first responders are stressed working during the coronavirus pandemic, and they’re finding new ways to relieve the tension.

The scene: A medic works over a patient before putting the gurney into the ambulance. Blood pressure; respiration; temperature; maybe an IV. Very close quarters. What if the patient has coronavirus? The medic can’t get 6 feet away.

“Now it’s just another layer of what-ifs,” said George Tamborelle, a paramedic supervisor with Bangs Ambulance Co. of Ithaca.

The COVID-19 pandemic means emergency medics who already face a stressful job now must deal with complications: new protocols, new stress, new fear.

“It’s tough,” said Trish Hansen, Cortland’s division manager for TLC Emergency Medical Services, which provides ambulance service to much of Cortland County. “They’re worried about getting sick.”

Workers’ temperatures are taken at the start of each shift and they put on personal protective equipment before going out to calls, she said.

But any patient could be a carrier.

“You don’t know what you’re walking into when someone is sick,” she said.

And contact with someone who has coronavirus means the medic can take it home to the family, Tamborelle said.

“You do everything you can but there is always that hint of, did I miss something?” he said. “Will I bring this home to my pregnant wife and children?”

While the tension is high when the EMTs are dealing with a patient at a scene, the number of calls has decreased, said Tim Bangs, the president and owner of Bangs Ambulance.

“The call volume isn’t there like it was before,” he said. “Where they used to be pretty busy running from call to call to call, now they’re down.”

Bangs has seen a 35 to 40% reduction in call volume, which Bangs said is probably because fewer students remain at Cornell University and Ithaca College.

But perhaps, he added, people may be afraid now to call first responders as they fear they might get the virus while at a hospital.

“To some degree, I think they’re (EMTs) struggling a little bit because they want to be out there doing stuff,” Bangs said.

To help EMTs reduce stress, Bangs said he plans to create competitions between calls, such as who ran or walked the most miles and who ran the fastest 5K.

At TLC Emergency Medical Services, each worker has a different way to cope, Hansen said. But sharing meals provided by local businesses and donors, such as a spaghetti dinner provided this evening from the New York American Legion, helps.

“That has put a smile on everybody’s face,” she said. “Our community has been outstanding and just these showings of appreciation have just done wonders to everybody.”

The stress though has not stopped her workers from doing their job, she said. “They wouldn’t be in this field if they didn’t care for people and didn’t want to take care of people.”