First responders prepare for possible uptick in coronavirus cases

As people in Stanly are adjusting to a new normal due to the coronavirus situation, with many businesses and schools closed, work has generally stayed the same for first responders.

The volume of 911 calls EMS and firefighters respond to has remained constant, but that will likely change as the number of cases around the state continues to increase each day. North Carolina has 2,093 cases as of Friday, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services — an increase of 236 cases from the day before.

And that’s a reality Stanly County EMS is bracing for.

“Unfortunately we do expect it to get worse, we do expect more people to contract the virus,” EMS Training Officer Dale Chandler said. “It’s just like the flu, there’s no way to stop it without social distancing and staying at home.”

Though Stanly County has seven confirmed cases as of Friday, many local counties have been ravaged by the virus. Cabarrus has 56 cases while Mecklenburg leads the state with 564. Eighteen people in the state have died from the virus.

The county’s emergency management team, along with EMS administration, has developed a plan, should the outbreak get worse and start to infect paramedics, as it has in many hot spots around the country, such as New York City.

Chandler said Stanly EMS, which has about 80 field staff, including 13 on shift each day, has been in constant communication with EMS agencies in neighboring counties. It has been able to see what strategies have been effective in dealing with the virus.

Albemarle Fire Chief T. Pierre Brewton said his department is largely sheltering in place in their stations except for responding to emergency calls. During such calls, firefighters are wearing extra protective gear, including face masks, body isolation gloves and gowns.

“We’re operating under what we call universal precautions,” Brewton said, adding that his department is trying to be as safe as possible against a virus that is still largely unknown to many outside of the medical field. This also includes staggered seating to maintain a safe distance while inside the stations.

His firefighters have been responding to roughly the same number of calls as usual. They are also working in conjunction with Stanly County EMS to respond to critical calls like heart attacks or strokes.

“We’re working together to make sure we drop no coverage of the citizens,” Brewton said.

Brewton does not believe any of his firefighters have responded to or have been in contact with any of the people who have tested positive for the virus.

He has asked his firefighters to take time to rest — physically, mentally and spiritually — to make sure they are taking proper care of themselves.

“Firefighters, we have what we call a Type A personality and our mode of thinking is when we are called, we can fix what’s wrong,” he said. “Unfortunately this is a situation where we can’t fix what’s wrong. We can only impact the situation by giving the best quality care for ourselves and for the patient.”

Brewton said he encourages his crew to reach out and ask for help if they ever feel overwhelmed with all of the uncertainty with coronavirus.

“What’s going on know, it is an unknown, it’s an X variable,” Brewton said about the virus.

He encourages the public to remain vigilant, stay inside and use this time as an opportunity to build relationships with loved ones.

Albemarle Fire Chief T. Pierre Brewton and his department are taking precautions when responding to calls such as wearing extra protective equipment: face masks, gloves and gowns.

Albemarle Police Chief David Dulin said his officers are equipped with personal protective equipment to utilize if the need arises. In an attempt to avoid possible contamination, Dulin said his officers are handling calls for service over the phone whenever possible.

He said the members of APD are working closely with the local emergency management to “stay abreast of changing conditions.”

Contact reporter Chris Miller at 704-982-2122.