The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department has changed its first response protocol in an effort to help protect firefighters from COVID-19 and to prevent the spread of the disease among the community they protect.
“You almost have to assume that everybody has the virus so we can protect ourselves,” said Colin Stowell, Chief of the San Diego Fire Department.
The new protocol starts, in most cases, before crews even leave their respective stations to answer a call. Emergency dispatchers are now asking callers specific questions about their symptoms.
“They focus in on what those symptoms are, who’ve they’ve been exposed to, what their setting is, but specifically, are they COVID-like symptoms that we need to take extra precautions,” said Stowell.
Once crews arrive at a scene, firefighters are using what they call a "one-in, three-out" system.
“We send one person in to assess the scene and assess that patient while the other three stay out. That one person, who’s properly dressed in their PPE, collects that information and will come back out, report to the crew what the needs are,” said Stowell.
In an effort to conserve PPE inventory, crew members only put on the protective gear if the patient is showing symptoms. The gear includes gowns, gloves, goggles and face masks.
Stowell says the department’s current inventory of PPE is "adequate" but concedes the department is going through the gear much faster than anticipated. He says the department is seeing some of their gown supply depleted.
The protocol also asks people in need of aid to change the way they seek help. The SDFD asks potential patients to meet crews outside when possible.
“If that patient is ambulatory or can be brought outside, there’s no reason for our folks to go inside a facility and be exposed to anything they don’t need to be unnecessarily," said Stowell.
Meanwhile, the fire chief says crew members are also taking precautions to stay safe at their stations -- euipment is being disinfected; crew members are being asked not to take equipment or uniforms home.
“We are in this thing for a long run," Stowell said. "We are just starting to see in San Diego County the uptick, and we can’t afford to have our folks exposed and have it affecting our staffing levels and our ability to impact our services in the long run."