The Lodi Area EMS crew may look a little different when responding to calls, but they are not slowing down their operations.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Chief Russ Schafer said changes were being made; however, none of them would hinder how the department does its job.
“As far as every day calls, we are wearing masks, face shields and gloves — the gloves are nothing new,” Schafer said, adding that some providers are wearing full protective gowns on calls. “We might look a little different.”
It’s a job that requires close contact during all calls, so the department is putting people in more jeopardy if they were to practice social distancing when on call.
While Schafer is unable to confirm whether his department has gone out and responded to potential COVID-19 calls, he said that at this point, most area EMS agencies have probably seen it due to the virus now being community spread.
Schafer said that the dispatch is doing its part to try and separate the natures of each incoming call, so the department knows what to expect.
“All calls are screened, with certain respiratory questions asked,” Schafer said.
He added that all staff members are being careful and cautious.
“We don’t know where it is and where it’s spreading,” he said.
The department has canceled CPR courses and other scheduled interactions within the community. But nothing will limit the department from responding to calls. Schafer said that while unable to educate the public through normal interactions, more information on the current situation, can be found on their Facebook page.
“I know people have questions, but we want to reassure them that we still respond to every 911 call,” Schafer said.
The department is also doing its part to keep staff members safe while not out on calls. The ambulances are normally disinfected after every use, but Schafer said the department has been extra thorough recently.
“We’re using a bleach solution because what we use regularly is in short supply,” he said.
For the last few years, the department has been able to pick up its disinfecting.
“We’ve also been using a UV light for two or three years as an additional step, for 60 minutes,” Schafer said. “Any surface the light touches, it disinfects.”
While the department can’t social distance while on call, they are practicing it at the station. Schafer is limiting the number of people in the office and staff is dispersed throughout the station and not congregating as much. Proper cleaning is also being done.
“We’re cleaning surfaces multiple times a day and washing our hands regularly,” Schafer said.
As of now, nobody in the department is out sick. The department has not seen significant exposure on calls and everyone is wearing the proper equipment when needed.
If things were to get worse, Schafer said that a plan is in place if Lodi EMS, or other area departments, were to see the number of available staff members decrease. Area municipalities have been working on cross-credentialing and licensing in order to make sure departments have the ability to stay fully staffed. The Lodi department also has a lot of volunteers who help, which cuts down on people at the station daily. It also means that they don’t have to answer potential calls, but Schafer said that is far from the case for his department.
“We have a lot of volunteers that work with us — they don’t have to do it right now,” Schafer said. “They can think it’s too much of a risk and stay away, but everyone has stepped up and answered that call.”
Schafer said that while sanitizing and other precautionary supplies are in good standing now at the station, an influx of calls could change that in a hurry.
“We’re extremely short on supplies — masks, gowns, hand sanitizer,” Schafer said. “We’re OK now.”
The department has been getting some community help recently, as different companies have donated some items.
“I love it. Every little bit helps,” Schafer said. “There was a company that just gave us one box (of masks) because that’s all they had. But that one box can protect our people on four calls. That’s huge. There’s no donation that’s too small. It’s nice to know the people are thinking about us.”