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Protecting first responders from COVID-19 starts with dispatch, leaders say

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As the country works to stem the spread of the coronavirus, how are local leaders protecting those on the front lines of the pandemic?

On Thursday, Providence Public Safety Commissioner Stephen Pare said there are protocols in place to protect first responders from exposure to COVID-19.

Coronavirus: Latest Headlines, Map, Resources » | Track the number of cases in RI »

“We have started, about 10 days ago, screening our calls,” Pare explained. “We ascertain whether [the patient] traveled to those countries, whether they have the symptoms.”

Pare said once dispatchers determine whether the patient is contagious, they can alert first responders ahead of time.

“EMS is more equipped,” Pare admitted. “We’ve made sure that our police officers, if they are responding to an area that may be contagious, have the proper equipment with them.”

More: Guidance for EMS, First Responders and Dispatch »

Similar protocols have been implemented in Fall River, according to Jason Burns, president of IAFF Local 1314.

“We are going to jump into more proactive and preventative measures much earlier in the process, if not right in the apparatus before we arrive on scene,” Burns said.

He said the city’s firefighters and first responders are tactics similar to the ones they utilized during the Ebola outbreak, including the use of full-body protective equipment and additional bagging and cleaning measures.

“Obviously, if someone is in need of help, that is what we do,” Burns said.

He stressed the importance of protecting his crews, adding that if one first responder were to contract COVID-19, it would most likely have a ripple effect within the department.

“If you are not prepared to make some very difficult decisions, to quarantine people, this could get out of hand very quickly,” Burns explained.

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