First responders taking precautions amid COVID-19 outbreak

Heightened risk for paramedics

As for paramedics, they say they have exposure control plans in place but they also feel they have a heightened risk of contracting something because they’re dealing with patients first, and sometimes in their home.

Troy Clifford, president of Ambulance Paramedics of BC and Emergency Dispatchers of BC, says members are being more diligent and are wearing masks and specialized glasses in addition to gloves when taking high-risk calls.

“We do have some things we’re doing differently when it comes to dispatch protocol. There are key questions they’re asking, from what I understand, so they’re flagging calls as ‘potentials.’” That means if someone is calling 911 for help and claims to have some of the symptoms linked to the virus then crews can take those extra steps.

He explains their two priorities are their staff and patients and their job is to keep everyone as healthy as possible. “First is paramedic safety because you can’t help people if you’re not safe and then our patients we’re looking after.”

Clifford says on a daily basis he’s hearing from members who are worried about being exposed to COVID-19. “It’s the busiest thing I’ve been dealing with in the last couple of weeks. I’m hearing the concerns, the apprehensions. It’s a reassurance and education for not only us but for the public about what exactly it is we’re doing and not getting caught up in the sensationalized of it, let’s be practical and understand what we’re dealing with and what are the proper procedures.”

He says they’re working with their employer should the outbreak become a full blown epidemic. “There are enough paramedics to go around. I would say we are prepared if it escalated but for the short-term but if we reached other levels, we would really have to assess what the priorities are and that would be the organization working with the health authorities, the unions, provincial health ministry and the government, obviously, and we would escalate appropriately.”