The coronavirus pandemic has claimed another victim.
Firefighters in Person County will temporarily stop responding to most of the first responder medical calls they normally take as they try to limit their exposure to other people during the coronavirus pandemic.
That decision was made last Thursday during a meeting between Emergency Management Director Doug Young, EMS director Greg White, Roxboro fire chief Kenneth Torain and Wayne Wrenn, the president of the Person County Fire Chief’s Association, which represents the volunteer fire departments in the county. The decision applies to all the volunteer departments in the county as well as Roxboro’s Fire Department, which includes both paid staff and volunteers.
Limiting the calls firefighters will respond to means EMS had to shift work schedules for its employees to add additional manpower to each shift. EMS workers will now work 24 hours, followed by 24 hours off.
Wrenn, the Fire Chief’s Association president, said the decision wasn’t one fire leaders took lightly.
“It’s not that we don’t want to help them. It’s not that we won’t be there if EMS needs us. We’re trying to do what the governor has asked and limit our exposure to other people as much as we can,” Wrenn said.
While the change in protocol affects medical calls, chiefs and emergency management leaders all stress that firefighters will continue to respond to fires, car wrecks, life-threatening calls such as cardiac arrests and they will respond to routine medical calls if EMS asks for assistance.
County EMS responds to about 20 calls per day in an average day, according to Young. Approximately 65 percent of those calls would be first-responder calls. He said the plan EMS officials implemented last Thursday has been in place for some time, but he said the decision by the fire departments meant putting that staffing plan into action sooner than they had expected.
EMS workers have not seen a spike in calls, but Young said state officials have told them they might see more calls as the number of coronavirus cases continue to rise. As of Tuesday, Person County still had no reported cases of the coronavirus.
The decision to stop running the routine medical calls didn’t sit well with all the fire chiefs. Jason Fletcher, the chief of Timberlake Fire & Rescue said he wishes the chiefs had been consulted before a decision was made. But Wrenn said in a fast-moving crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, there was no time to call a meeting of the chiefs. “The decision needed to be made. Since that time Martin (Rimmer, the association’s vice president) has reached out to the chiefs to get their thoughts. Of the ones he talked to, I think only one was opposed to it,” Wrenn said.
Fletcher said he and his firefighters expect to deal with dangerous situations. “We do need to protect ourselves. But at the end of the day, I feel like I need to be there when someone calls,” Fletcher said. He said he heard four or five calls over the weekend that his department would have responded to, but didn’t in light of the new policy.
Fire chiefs and emergency management officials say the new policy will remain in place until the threat of the coronavirus has passed.