MUSCATINE, Iowa—For most organizations, dealing with a pandemic represents new territory. However, for the Muscatine Fire Department, preparing for infectious disease outbreaks has always made up part of their preparedness training. “Outbreaks like this are not new for us,” said Fire Chief Jerry Ewers.
As health officials across the country recognized COVID-19 as a growing concern, the Department went to work training all of its members on how to safely respond to cases of it. “The last few weeks it’s been 24/7 staying on top of it and our staff is doing a great job,” shared Ewers. In particular, Ewers said the department has emphasized teaching firefighters and paramedics how to properly use protective equipment, including masks, gloves, and adapted SCBA gear, and how to take it off without spreading contaminants.
Along with these trainings, the Department has also stepped up their cleaning and disinfecting of all ambulances and medical equipment. Fortunately, the department has an AeroClave disinfecting machine which allows them to fully sterilize an ambulance in about 20 minutes.
In order to preserve the cleanliness of the fire station and to reduce firefighters’ exposure to germs, the Department has suspended station tours, ride alongs for potential firefighters, and EMT precepting for the foreseeable future. They have also closed the lobby and will only take visitors by appointment only.
However, the Department would like to stress that people in emergency situations can still get full help from them. “We’re a core service,” emphasized Ewers, “we’re ready to answer the alert whenever it comes.”
Whenever someone puts in a call to the Department through MUSCOM, the dispatcher asks them if they have any symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath, as well as information about their recent travel history and possible contact with lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases. Based on the answers callers give, MUSCOM can issue a gold alert, which informs firefighters and emergency medical technicians that they should follow protocols for protecting themselves and patients if they may have COVID-19.
Regardless of whether or not the caller appears to have COVID-19 or not, Ewers wanted to assure the public that the Department will respond to all emergency calls, “all the emergency responses, anything that comes through 911 we will still respond to,” he said. In the case that Muscatine firefighters could not come to work because of illness, the department does have mutual aid agreements with other departments across the county and beyond, which would allow firefighters from elsewhere to step in and take care of local emergencies.
While the Department has taken the current COVID-19 outbreak in stride, they do encourage any local businesses with N-95 masks (which filter out 95% of airborne particulate) to consider donating them to Trinity Muscatine Public Health or Muscatine County Emergency Management. While firefighters can adapt their SCBA masks to work in a pinch, having N-95 masks will make their work, and the work of other first responders and medical personnel, safer and more efficient. For more information about donating, contact emergency management at 563-288-3909 or public health at 563-263-0122.