SLOW BURN — April RFD calls down ‘approx. 40-percent’

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fire departments in Greene and Christian counties have temporarily changed how they respond to medical calls. This, combined with an overall lack of activity by residents, led to a dramatic decrease early on in fire calls for the department, said Republic Fire Chief Duane Compton.
“I would estimate (calls) were down approximately 40-percent from where we were at this time last year for the month of April only,” Compton said. “However, there are a lot of variables in that number. When the shutdown first occurred if you noticed around town nobody went anywhere. The traffic on Highway 60 was extremely light, numerous businesses were closed.  The restaurants are trying to adjust to do takeout only versus having seated dining. The number of people that have doctors’ visits cancel those and overall traffic was very light throughout town. People were simply staying home as instructed.”
However, it seems the numbers are starting to creep
back up.
“As the shutdown continued people then started venturing out more,” Compton said. “The restaurants got their takeout orders business model figured out where they could be profitable, and people started traveling more. When that occurred, we started seeing a slight tick up in call volume but not much. However, at the beginning it was very slow for a few days as people were adjusting.”
Not only were fewer calls coming in, but fewer calls were covered by the fire department thanks to a policy change by local departments.
Compton said prior to the change, the departments responded to any 911 call that required an ambulance. For now, the departments will respond to 911 calls for 11 types of medical emergencies. Those are: Confirmed unconsciousness or cardiac arrest, chest pain or heart attack, uncontrolled bleeding, stroke, difficulty breathing, imminent childbirth or miscarriage, gunshot or stabbing, burns, electrocution or lightning strike, drowning or near drowning and carbon monoxide leak or alarm involving any symptoms or ill feeling.
“Anything fire related we will still respond like we have always done,” said Compton. “This change is to medical calls only.”

Dangers of the virus spreading in the department
Citing a case in Seattle, Wash., where several firefighters were forced into quarantine after becoming infected with COVID-19, Compton said the fire departments are changing how they respond to medical calls in an effort to keep a similar situation from happening in Greene and Christian counties.
“We do not have a lot of depth in staffing with only three people per station working on each shift,” he said. “Republic FD and other fire departments have concerns that if you get the COVID-19 virus inside the fire station, it could theoretically take out the entire staff on the fire department. You need to remember these staff members work 24 hours on duty and 48 hours off duty and spend a lot of time around each other.”

Preventing the spread of the virus outside the department
Additionally, Compton said the firefighters don’t want to risk spreading the virus to the people they come into contact with on a call.
“The other thing we are looking at is we come into contact with a lot of people throughout the day we have a concern with us spreading the virus from one house to another when we respond to emergency calls,” he said. “A lot of this has to do with a lack of PPE (personal protective equipment) in the fire departments in the area. We are very low on medical gowns and we have a limited supply mask this is why we have limited our call types. The ambulance service has a better supply of PPE then the fire service does because they are supported by the local hospitals. In theory we could go to a car wreck and be unknowing exposed to the virus and then spread that to the next person we come into contact on the next call unknowing. This virus is very contagious.”

Non-emergency services being halted or limited
The fire departments have also stopped or limited some non-emergency services.
“Until further notice we are not conducting tours of the fire station and are doing very limited public relations events,” Compton said. “We will be happy to do the drive-by birthday parties or other type of drive-by parties because that is practicing good social distancing.  We have stopped our fire extinguishers training classes. We have stopped our car seat installations unless it’s an emergency. We prefer you have those done at the local hospital. We have stopped annual fire inspection of local existing businesses. We will do fire inspections of new businesses so they can get open for business. Also, we have assisted the local restaurants with figuring their occupancy loads so they can be in compliance with the City Order for re-opening the dining rooms.”     

Exceptions to the rule
Though they are limiting responses to medical calls, Compton said that the fire departments will respond to 911 medical outside of the list of emergencies if the ambulance service requests them.
“If it is not on our top 11 list of calls and the ambulance needs us to respond we will respond to help them,” he said. “Throughout the pandemic this has happened a few times were the ambulance service did not have any ambulances available or in Republic and we have had to respond for a lift assist or other minor emergency medical call.”
Compton said the changes are in effect while the state works to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“This is a temporary change that all the fire departments in Greene and Christian counties made in an effort to reduce their exposure to the COVID-19 virus,” he said. “Once the local health department or the state of Missouri gives the all clear we will consider going back to the way we were pre-COVID-19.”
Compton also said he could only imagine what will happen once the pandemic ends.
“One thing is for sure,” he said, “it will be interesting to see what the new normal will look like once this is over. I have been in the fire service full-time since 1986, and I never dreamed this would happen.”


Lawrence County Record

312 S. Hickory St.
Mt. Vernon, MO, 65712


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