First responders describe challenges working during pandemic: ‘It’s hectic’

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – The pandemic may have changed how first responders answer calls for help, but their focus remains the same – saving lives.

Both firefighters and EMTs face new risks in this time of coronavirus.

“As a manager, it scares me more for the well-being of our employees,” says Jason Flegner, deputy director of operations for Bell Ambulance.

Flegner has been an EMT for nearly 20 years. Since March he’s had about 30 employees test positive for coronavirus.

He admits his staff is tired, but they’re commitment to the job remains the same.

“We’re staffing on average of 35-40 ambulances a day which is a few more than this time last year,” says Flegner.

He says the biggest impact has been time.

“Before COVID hit, a crew could turn around a call in 30-45 minutes,” says Flegner. “Today it’s almost double that because of all the PPE that’s used and the time it takes to get that on. The procedure from the hospital to the nursing home too.”

It’s a similar impact for firefighters.

“There may be a few extra seconds getting on those extra pieces of equipment, but certainly we’re still within those normal ranges of response time,” says Brian Krueger, lieutenant with the Greenfield Fire Department.

Krueger says the type of equipment they need is quickly determined by the call.

“If it comes in as a COVID-type screened call, we wear the N-95s which now we also have to wear around the fire house, but then we also use the suits and stuff like that,” says Krueger. “It just increases the level of protection for our own people.”

Wauwatosa Fire Department Division Chief Chris Sandoval says there’s also additional work after a call.

“Have to go back and make sure that the ambulance is decontaminated, our personnel are decontaminated, and we don’t bring anything back into the station,” says Sandoval.

“While we’ve decided to take this risk and be in this employment, we certainly want to protect our families as well,” says Krueger.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of vacations taken when the dust finally settles on this,” says Flegner.

But for now, they remind everyone of the support and help they’re here to offer.

“There’s more to think about, and there’s more to worry about, but the focus hasn’t changed,” says Flegner.


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