Public safety, first responders take extra health precautions

Apr. 12, 2020  PLYMOUTH EAGLE.

Plymouth Michigan News


Don Howard

Staff Writer

Area public safety departments are taking extra precautions to make sure police officers and firefighters are safe when responding to 911 calls during the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials said that with the onset of the pandemic their departments are fastidiously following the established guidelines from both the federal and state government with respect to limiting exposure to firefighters, and patients alike.

Both Plymouth and Northville Township police chiefs have redeployed detectives to road patrol duty to accommodate the need for a greater public presence and to make staff available to secure un-occupied and vacant business establishments.

On a national level, public safety call centers report they are experiencing unexpected 911 emergencies during the virus pandemic; keeping people who answer the phone healthy. Dispatchers, also known as Public Service Aids (PSAs) are highly trained in handling emergencies and typically can’t work from home.

Plymouth Township Police Chief Tom Tiderington said his department is prepared in the event of a shortage of PSAs due to sickness with an in-place co-op system, which can automatically transfer calls to a Northville Township or Canton Township dispatcher if needed. Other surrounding communities have the similar protections built-in, Tiderington said.

Tiderington reported that township police, fire and dispatch are at or near full staffing levels which allows the department to provide patients with the needed critical life and safety support during the crisis. As of last week, Tiderington reported that one officer was symptomatic and later tested negative.

Plymouth Township Fire Chief Dan Phillips said while police department PSAs now question callers and alert his department of the need to wear PPE (protective equipment) at the scene, his firefighters take precautions when approaching a likely exposed individual.

“We’re taking extra steps to screen callers to find out if anyone in the house is having flu-like symptoms, or a cough, a fever or shortness of breath before we arrive on scene,” said Phillips. “Then we don our PPE gear and approach with great caution.”

Department chiefs insist on temperature checks every 4 to 8 hours for firefighters and police officers alike to quickly identify anyone who might be sick.

Canton Fire Department Deputy Chief Chris Stoecklein said in the past month there’s been an increase in emergency calls not just directly due to the COVID-19 virus but calls for slip and fall, kitchen fires and domestic problems. Stoecklein said strict practice dictates the use of 6 to 10 foot distancing and wearing full PPE equipment where COVID-19 patients are involved.

“That includes, gowns, face mask, face shields, and boots,” he added.

Stoecklein reported that currently they have a good stock of PPE supplies, but complained that a N95 facemask that formerly cost $1 is now $4.95. Phillips said they also have an ample 3-40 day PPE supply, but there are supply-chain issues with gloves, and masks.

Northville Township Fire Chief Brent Siegel said increased department protocols to protect patients and limit exposure to firefighters are like those in place in the other area departments, including decontamination of ambulance units, carts and equipment.

“We’re doing the call screening with our dispatchers and using personal protective equipment before we arrive, but calls are taking longer.” Siegel said they “were doing tons of different things now to protect our personnel.

“Calls are now taking longer and we’re spending more time at the hospitals, as they are much busier.”

Siegel said according to the protocols when they return from transporting a virus patient the firefighters in addition to the cleaning and decontamination process, firefighters must shower.

“We are handling between one and three COVID-19 patients a day, Siegel said.

In the City of Northville, reports and calls to the police and fire departments have dropped in recent weeks due to the “stay home” order (2020-21) issued by the governor, but both departments are fully prepared for a spike in emergency runs and calls for assistance due to an anticipated rise in COVID-19 cases, public safety officials said.

“Things are changing daily,” said Police Chief Allan Maciag.

Callers to 911 can expect to be asked screening questions for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. They are being asked about potential symptoms and any exposure to people who have the infectious dis- ease that presents with a fever and respiratory problems such as shortness of breath and a cough, often with aches and pains. For non-emergency calls, Dispatch (248-349-1234) will take the person’s name and phone number and have an officer call back. This is a new operating procedure that took effect after the police department. office closed to the public as part of the governor’s order to stay at home.

Police continue to make their rounds of city streets, neighborhoods and business- es, Maciag said. Officers are still responding to the scene of an accident or of a crime to investigate and write reports, but now they maintain a physical distance of 6 feet when ever possible. Maciag said people who need to drop off gun permits should do so by mail or use the drop box at the lower level of the building.

To ensure safety among the police force, officers take their temperature before and after their shift, wash their hands frequently, and work in offices and cars that have been cleaned and disinfected regularly. They have a good supply of personal protection equipment (PPE) ready and available for use, Maciag said.

Of the on-call firefighters, 95 percent are state licensed as emergency medical responders and follow the same procedures as police when reporting to the station for a call, said Fire Chief Steve Ott. They work together with personnel from Community EMS (CEMS) to stabilize and transport patients who need care, he said.

Patients exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 will be assessed by first responders wearing personal protective gear, such as mask, gowns and face shields, which protects them while treating or transporting the patient.

During runs, physical distancing of 6 feet is now standard operating procedure apart from hands-on patient care or transport.

“We’re trying to limit the number of first responders who are exposed to COVID- 19, while still providing prompt medical response to anyone who needs it,” noted Ott.


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