CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - Emergency responders are doing what they can to keep themselves and the public safe.
Chatham Emergency Services has some unique equipment that allows them to decontaminate ambulances after caring for patients who may be positive.
Chatham EMS still has the standard equipment and procedures to keep their rigs clean between calls. In the era of COVID-19, they're stepping up that approach.
"What we’re doing a little more because of the pandemic, is we’re one of the few agencies in the nation that actually have machines that will sterilize and decontaminate ambulances,” said Chatham Emergency Services CEO Chuck Kearns.
In recent days, as many as 20 or more ambulance crews have come back over the course of the day to Station One on Whitebluff Road to have their truck decontaminated by this machine. While that process takes about six minutes, the crew cleaning up, changing clothes and wiping everything down inside the rig after the decontamination can take up to an hour.
"We're certainly encouraging them to do all of the right things, to limit their exposure. And if they think there's any suspicion at all, we allow them to come in right then and there and do the decontamination,” Kearns said.
Any case EMS crews encounter where a patient is showing signs consistent with COVID-19, they treat the case as such until proven otherwise. And like all first responders working with the public on a daily basis, they too are susceptible to getting sick.
"I think we've had a total of eight EMT's and medics quarantined at home because they showed up with a low-grade fever or something like that. And we say, contact your doctor, stay at home. They're not missing out on any pay,” Kearns said.
Kearns added he’s not aware of any of his employees testing positive for COVID-19 at this time.
Putting the fears over coronavirus in perspective through the lens of a medical professional with more than thirty years experience, Kearns said, “There have been things that I’ve lived through in my career, SARS, MERS, Bird Flu, Zika Virus, Ebola...which was horrible. They all still exist, right along with measles and mumps and things like that."
He went on to say, “So, this is kind of a cyclical thing in life, it’s a new contagion that’s popped up. And I think it’s probably got people a little more scared because some folks get no symptoms, and others die in a number of days, within two weeks. And you don’t know how long you might have it, and of course not everybody can get tested.”
As far as supplies go, the Chatham Emergency Services CEO says they’re stocked up, and even recently received some supplies from the National Stockpile through the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.