Jackson Hole’s firefighters on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic are taking careful steps to care for medical patients while not contracting or spreading the disease.
Because health officials have confirmed there’s community spread in Teton County, firefighters and paramedics are taking extra precautions when responding to all calls.
“We have to make sure our workforce is all still responding six weeks from now,” Fire Chief Brady Hansen said. “That’s making sure they are still healthy and that we are also taking precautions of not spreading the virus as we go treat patients that are vulnerable.”
In additions to extra steps like wearing personal protective equipment and disinfecting the ambulance after a call, Fire/EMS personnel must go home and shower and change clothes before returning to work or responding to the next call.
“Calls take much longer,” Hansen said. “So if we have an average run that’s an hour and 15 minute turnaround that same ambulance — if there is any suspicion of a virus — takes three hours or more.”
Hansen is thankful that Jackson Hole Fire/EMS had a stockpile of personal protective equipment before this pandemic.
“Since this outbreak started we have received very little PPE,” Hansen said. “We are relying almost entirely on what we already had.”
The Fire Department had enough to share some with the Teton County Sheriff’s Office and the Jackson Police Department, whose deputies and officers are now wearing them while on patrol.
Hansen said calls for service are more frequent than they usually are this time of year, so not only do calls take longer, there are more of them.
The Fire Department normally decreases to a smaller “offseason staff” in early April, but because calls are steady and they’re taking longer Hansen doesn’t see that happening soon.
“We are at the front line of this, and our responsibility is really high,” Hansen said.
Of the more than 100 members of the fire department, only two people are in quarantine, Hansen said. They’re isolated because they traveled outside the region, not because of COVID-19 symptoms.
Fire/EMS personnel are required to take their temperatures twice a day so they remain aware of their own health.
Staff fire stations are also being disinfected twice daily, Hansen said.
“I could not be more proud of our crew and the members who have stepped up,” Hansen said. “If you are paid to go to that call you may be close to the virus.
“Then you have to go home to your family. They have to have some courage to do it.”