Team of Providence firefighters responds to ‘nonstop’ COVID-19 calls


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ It’s hard to tell when Providence Fire Rescue Captain David Palumbo will have a few minutes to spare these days, as back-to-back suspected COVID-19 calls take up most of his shifts.

From one COVID-19 related call to another, Palumbo is almost always suited up and prepared for anything. He’s one of nearly two dozen Providence firefighters who volunteered to be part of the COVID-19 response team, which only responds to coronavirus-related calls.

“We start at 7 o’clock in the morning – we go all day, we do a 24-hour shift – and probably within 15 to 20 minutes, we get our first run of the day,” Palumbo said. “If they meet the criteria of a possible COVID-19 patient they will send Rescue 5.”

Palumbo said the calls have been nonstop, and continue to increase as the pandemic drags on. He said they’ve been called to transport people of all ages.

“We try to be patient,” he said. “We take our time, we do their vital signs…make sure they get good care, then we decontaminate the truck and and we’re ready to go and then there’s another one waiting for us.”

While every call is crucial, Palumbo told Eyewitness News about one in-particular that was eye-opening.

“Monday of this week, I worked and we had a pretty bad run where a lady was talking to me…then it went to she couldn’t catch her breath, and then 20 minutes to a half hour later, she was on a full ventilator, she wasn’t doing too good,” he recalled.

Palumbo also said that first responders are now also using Zoom to connect patients with doctors to determine whether a trip to the hospital is necessary.

He said allowing patients to speak to a doctor before being transported ensures that they’re not putting themselves at more risk of exposure to the virus.

“The kinks have to get worked out, but it’s definitely going to help us,” he said.

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