Coronavirus: OC first responders test new 911 call system to reduce potential COVID-19 exposure

WESTMINSTER, Calif. (KABC) -- The novel coronavirus is changing the way first responders with the Orange County Fire Authority respond to calls.

Crews demonstrated what it will look like in a mock call Tuesday.

If it doesn't put a life at risk, dispatchers will screen callers. For patients showing symptoms of novel coronavirus, crews will wear their personal protective equipment. That's masks and gowns added to the usual gloves and goggles.

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Capt. Jason Fairchild with OCFA Incident Management Team said symptomatic patients will be asked to meet the responding crew outside.

"When they take the 911 call, they're trying to direct people if they're able to walk and do so safely, we would like them to come outside," Fairchild said.

All patients will get a mask right away just in case to reduce the risk of exposure to firefighters and the public. Then a quick assessment and reading of vitals by only one first responder.

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"We send one responder in quickly that's ready to go in all his gear and that is going to be our initial assessment of the patient, then as he needs help, the other crew is going to come in in their gear. They're going to then help move him to the ambulance," Fairchild said.

Once everyone going to the hospital is loaded up, the rest can remove their gear, careful to not contaminate their own clothing. That all goes into waste disposal.

At the end of it all, the transfer crew and ambulance are decontaminated.

"If one of our firefighters gets sick or gets exposed or if we bring someone in that exposes our crews then that limits the number of firefighters that are available to respond," Fairchild said.

According to Fairchild, any OCFA firefighter with a temperature reading of a hundred degrees or higher will be sent home and monitored. Fairchild said per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, if it is believed those symptoms are as a result of exposure to a patient with COVID-19, the first responder will be asked to stay home for at least 14 days.

According to a tweet from OCFA, all the agency's facilities have been closed to the public since March 12 to reduce risk of first responder exposure to novel coronavirus.

Starting March 17, anyone entering OCFA properties, including employees, must go through a temperature reading and screening for symptoms of the virus.
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