New Social Distancing Guidelines For First Responders During 911 Calls

Mar 26, 2020, 5:42 PM | Updated: 9:52 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Social distancing guidelines have prompted new protocol for first responders. Law enforcement officers, paramedics, and firefighters have been doing their best to try and minimize any potential exposure to the novel coronavirus.

It’s not easy in their line of work. COVID-19 has made it more challenging.

“This is unconventional for everybody, (and) everything we’re doing,” said Captain Anthony Burton with the Salt Lake City Fire Department.

Salt Lake City firefighter paramedics have still been responding to calls. They’re just doing it differently.

Local officials have put new procedures in place when someone calls 911 emergency dispatchers.

“We’re just sending one responder in initially, so we’re minimizing our contact,” said Captain Burton. “We’ve now changed our protocol to where we’re asking if people can walk to meet us outside of their building or outside of their home.”

He said that reduces exposure for both the paramedic and the person they’re helping.

“It’s safer for our crews, as well as we don’t bring anything into their home,” said Captain Burton.

Police officers have tried to limit their exposure to the public, as well, though they know a big part of their job is dealing with people.

“All of our officers have been issued personal protection equipment,” said Keith Horrocks with the Salt Lake City Police Department. “They all have goggles. They all have the latex gloves that are recommended by the CDC.”

Officers have asked the public, if you need something and if it can be done online or by phone, to please do so.

Of course, if something must be done in person, or there’s an emergency, officers will still respond.

“There’s going to be an officer there for you and there for the public,” said Sgt. Horrocks. “We’re there for them. We’re still going to the calls we would normally go to. We’re still there when you dial 911.”

If you dial 911 in Salt Lake City, be ready for additional questions from dispatchers.

“What we’ve implemented now, due to the current situation, is we’re asking if they are having flu-like symptoms,” said Lisa Burnette, who director of Salt Lake City 911. “So, are they experiencing a fever? Do they have shortness of breath? Have they been coughing? Things like that.”

That information is then given to first responders, so those crews know what to expect on arrival.

“We started screening everything from the dispatch centers,” said Captain Burton.

Dispatchers have also done their best to limit exposure.

“We’re not allowing anyone into the dispatch office unless there’s a critical need to be there,” said Burnette. “It’s also the expectation of all staff to totally wipe down their console with Clorox wipes, (and) their chairs. We’re taking every precaution.” 

At the Salt Lake County Emergency Management Center in South Salt Lake, anyone going into the building is given a quick health screening.

It’s an attempt to prevent someone who is sick from being inside and infecting other emergency personnel.

“We’ve also implemented screening (of) our firefighters and our paramedics before their shifts start,” said Unified Fire Authority public information officer Patrick Costin. “If you have a big shift, we’ll do multiple checks throughout the shift.”

Unified Fire Authority has also been documenting all that information, so if a firefighter does get sick, they’ll know who they have been in contact with right away.

Costin also said if a firefighter comes to your house in this current environment, the experience can be different than normal.

“We usually get up close and personal, right into your face, to try and help,” he said. “The first thing you’ll notice, now, is we’re kind of taking a step back.”

First responders have asked everyone to be patient, and to know they want to help, but they also want to be safe – for themselves, their families, and for people who need help in the future.

“We’re a limited resource,” said Captain Burton. “Once our personnel get sick, we can’t help anyone else.”

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New Social Distancing Guidelines For First Responders During 911 Calls