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Giving essential services, taking precautions: Six in Greenfield quarantined after exposure

  • Greenfield Fire Chief Robert Strahan and Mayor Roxann Wedegartner at a recent COVID-19 press conference at the John Zon Community Center. Strahan reports six first responders between the Greenfield police and fire departments are in quarantine after suspected exposure to a patient with COVID-19, STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/29/2020 1:16:31 PM

GREENFIELD — Six first responders between the Greenfield police and fire departments are in quarantine after suspected exposure to a patient with COVID-19, according to City Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Robert Strahan.

While they have not presented any symptoms as of Friday, Strahan said the six first responders will need to spend 14 days in home quarantine in order to see if symptoms will present themselves. Strahan said quarantine is important to protect the health of those exposed, the rest of the first responders’ roster and any members of the public they would assist.

Franklin County and North Quabbin first responders will continue to work around the clock to provide essential services, while taking extra steps to try and protect their own health.

Strahan said Greenfield’s public safety agencies are constantly updated with new guidelines as information becomes available from the Center for Disease Control.

“We’re taking all appropriate precautions when responding to calls,” Strahan said.

Currently, the local department is managing to maintain most of its supply cache. Certain supplies are starting to dwindle, but Strahan said the national supply chain is starting to improve and equipment is beginning to reach first responders across the nation.

Greenfield department heads are meeting every morning at the city’s COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center in the John Zon Community Center. The center is not open to the public, but there is a hotline for questions pertaining to COVID-19 and they are accepting donations of medical grade personal protective equipment.

No homemade items are being accepted by Greenfield. Needed supplies include: masks, gloves, gowns, shoe coverings (booties) and hand sanitizer. Items will need to be dropped off outside the John Zon Community Center during hours of operation. Call 413-775-6411 before bringing donations.

Athol

Athol Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera said while the department is “always busy,” the COVID-19 outbreak has led to a spike in calls to the Athol station.

“People are concerned,” Guarnera said. “They’re calling in for assistance. Our dispatch team is doing a great job of fielding calls before responders are dispatched.”

He said dispatchers are asking a list of questions to quickly determine a need for emergency response. They are also assessing citizens’ potential symptoms, and encouraging them to call a primary care physician, if needed.

According to Guarnera, Athol first responders have a current supply of N95 masks that were gathered through the local board of health and other entities. They are in need of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, as well as non-latex, medical grade gloves and body-gowns for personal protective equipment.

“We’re using Tyvek suits from the hazmat truck right now,” Guarnera said.

Turners Falls

Turners Falls Fire District Chief John Zellmann said calls are being screened through dispatch to assess the severity of a patient’s symptoms, if COVID-19 is suspected. Regardless of symptoms, first responders are approaching all medical calls with added caution.

“We are doing everything humanly possible to protect ourselves,” Zellmann said.

New standards require “more enhanced” personal protective equipment for all medical calls. If a patient falls into criteria for COVID-19 after speaking with dispatchers, even further protection is required for first responders. Zellmann said they would wear N95 respiratory masks, an eye shield, gloves, a gown and possibly even booties. After returning from calls, responders must wash their clothes and shower before putting on a new, clean uniform.

Zellmann predicted the department has enough supplies to match its current call volume, but requests for additional supplies and gear have been placed through Massachusetts Emergency Management Association (MEMA). He said it’s important to practice added caution, even if a patient doesn’t exhibit COVID-19 symptoms because they could be asymptomatic — someone who carries the virus but shows no symptoms.

“We’re a small department,” Zellmann said. “It wouldn’t take much to devastate us if members had to go into quarantine.”

South Deerfield Fire District

South Deerfield Fire District Deputy Chief Dennis Patterson said the department currently has enough N95 masks and gloves to handle their call volume. However, Patterson noted, this could change.

“For every call we go out on where we are required to be close to people, we are wearing eye protection, N95 masks and medical grade gloves,” Patterson said. “We’re doing everything to protect ourselves, and the people we are responding to.”

The department gets its calls through Shelburne Control dispatch center. Dispatchers ask pertinent questions of callers, so the local departments have a sense of what they are responding to, and if the patient is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

Bernardston

According to Bernardston Emergency Management Director Peter Shedd, the town is running low on both N95 masks and basic surgical style masks.

“They are in short supply everywhere,” Shedd said.

He said the town will accept homemade mask donations, stating “some mask is better than no mask” when trying to keep responders protected. Anyone interested in donating should call the fire station at 413-648-9757.

When dispatched, responders are encouraged to wear their protective equipment. Fire and Police departments have access to Tyvek suits, which completely cover responders when aiding citizens. If possible, police officers and other responders are conducting initial discussions through the doors of homes when being dispatched, instead of entering areas that may expose them to COVID-19.

Two families in Bernardston recently notified Shedd they entered home-quarantine after interacting with someone from another town who was confirmed to have the virus. So far, Shedd said, no Bernardston first responders have shown symptoms of COVID-19, nor have they been in confirmed contact with anyone carrying it.

Shelburne Falls

Shelburne Falls and Buckland Fire Chief Herb Guyette, who is also the emergency management director for Shelburne and Buckland, said they are “currently, OK to good” with its personal protective equipment supply. Additional supplies have been ordered through MEMA.

“We’re treating all calls as “hot” calls,” Guyette said.

This means that first responders are approaching all medical calls as if the patient is a carrier of COVID-19. Unless proven otherwise, first responders will use personal protective equipment, which includes eye shields, masks, gloves and more. Additionally, they will require patients to wear a mask as much as possible.

In order to stay healthy and cut down on the calls first responders are answering, Guyette and other department heads are encouraging the public to stay home, practice social distancing and wash their hands often.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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