Local first responders take on-duty precautions amid COVID-19 outbreak

Local News

“We’re limiting contact where we can,” Chief Werth said

Police lights on during an emergency.

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — For first responders, oftentimes there is no such thing as social distancing.

Due to the nature of their work, first responders are often thrust into situations with little to no warning that will put them into close proximity with other people.

With suggestions that people stay indoors or far apart from one another to deal with the coronavirus, first responders do not often have that option.

However, the main thread, at least for police, is to do as much as possible to eliminate contact with others if they can.

Boardman police Chief Todd Werth said his officers will always respond in person if needed. However, if some complaints can be handled over the phone, he said reports will be made that way to limit contact.

“We’re limiting contact where we can,” Werth said.

If an officer pulls someone over on the road, they will try and find an open spot like a parking lot where it is easier to keep a safe distance from someone.

Call takers at the 911 center have a series of questions to ask callers when officers are dispatched to a home or scene. That way, the officers have an idea of what the conditions are before they get there and can take precautions if necessary, Werth said.

Maj. Joe Dragovich of the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office said they are trying to handle as many things as possible over the phone, but like Werth, he stressed that deputies will respond when they need to.

“A crime in progress, we’re going,” Dragovich said.

One area that may not be handled over the phone, however, is interviews by detectives in a criminal case because oftentimes the demeanor of a witness is crucial in any investigation.

“You’re not just looking for answers,” Dragovich said. “You’re looking at body language.”

At the jail, prisoners have their temperature checked before the booking process. If there is a problem, Dragovich said medical staff is quickly notified.

But while police get close and sometimes hands-on, it is paramedics who are closer to people than anyone.

Dawn Wrask, head of education for American Medical Response in Youngstown, said paramedics are using gowns, face shields or goggles and special masks when they are treating patients who may have come into contact with the virus.

She said the masks, called N95 masks, are specially designed to filter smaller particles that paramedics may come into contact with.

“People don’t realize because it’s airborne, people don’t have to sneeze on you, they have to sneeze around you,” Wrask said.

Face and eye protection are also important to keep the airborne particles out of the eyes, Wrask said.

AMR has ordered more of the masks, but there is a shortage. Wrask said the masks can be reused if they are stored properly.

Gloves are vital and there is also a shortage of those, Wrask said.

Wrask said precautions are also taken in the ambulance because a patient is in close proximity to a paramedic. She said patients are given regular surgical masks in those cases.

While a regular mask does not stop everything, it can at least keep any particles from a patient temporarily at bay.

Wrask said AMR uses the Center For Disease Control and Prevention guidelines when determining whether or not to take special precautions with a patient.

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