Local EMTs and firefighters at the front of the outbreak

Protocols being followed and it’s working

By Mark Reaman

More than a dozen medical volunteers, all wearing masks and some in complete personal protective equipment, were spread out over the high school parking lot of the Crested Butte Community School Tuesday morning. Crested Butte marshals monitored vehicles as they lined up for the drive-through coronavirus screening station for the north end of the valley, making sure people had used the call center before showing up to be screened.

Several work stations had been set up to gather information, evaluate the seriousness of a potential patient, administer potential tests and educate those who drove by between 10 a.m. and noon. A big blue tent was the hub of activity and some testing was being conducted out of a Crested Butte Fire Protection District (CBFPD) vehicle.

The CBFPD is on the front lines of this coronavirus outbreak and the local firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are ready for when things pick up, which they expect will happen.

CBFPD EMS and fire chief Rob Weisbaum said the Tuesday screening had been a smooth operation with people respecting the rules and taking the necessary precautions. He said during any two-hour screening session, the medical team expected to see between 40 and 50 vehicles.

“The team is doing great,” Weisbaum said Tuesday afternoon. “Everyone is really stepping up in our time of need and ensuring that the schedule is covered to handle multiple calls. The team is resilient and is maintaining a great attitude.”

The CBFPD is doing its best to staff eight people every day with volunteers, part-time staff and overtime from the full-time staff. Weisbaum said that the district has been successful in meeting that goal.

He said so far, no one on the team has been tested positive for COVID-19. “We did have six members go into a precautionary self-isolation and work restriction because of contact with a couple of known cases. They all have since been cleared to return to work and no one ever showed any symptoms.”

The CBFPD isn’t yet getting a heavy volume of calls related to the coronavirus. “We are averaging maybe three a day that are showing signs consistent with COVID-19 or influenza,” Weisbaum said.

“When we do get such a call, we are limiting the amount of crew who are making contact with these types of patients. One paramedic will approach the residence and meet the patient at the door if they are able. A secondary EMT will be in the ‘cold zone’ [outside and out of range but within voice contact of the paramedic]. At that time, the medic will perform an assessment to weigh the risks and see if the patients potentially meet the criteria. Our crews are assuming everyone has COVID-19 until an assessment is performed.

“The initial paramedic is wearing full PPE to include masks, gloves, gown and eye protection,” Weisbaum continued. “We also immediately place a surgical mask on the patient while the initial assessment is performed. Based on how the patient is presenting, the rest of the crew will don the appropriate PPE once a determination has been made. If the patient appears in distress and considered high risk, they will be transported by ambulance. That’s not to say we won’t transport someone who doesn’t quite meet the criteria. However, we are encouraging them to follow the CDC guidelines and stay in place if possible. If the patient needs to go to the hospital but appears somewhat stable, we may advise them to go in the personal vehicle and make contact with the hospital prior to arriving so that they can be given instructions upon their arrival.”

Weisbaum emphasized that while there has not yet been a huge influx of calls, he anticipated it will come. “If data stays true to what other countries are seeing, we are anticipating call volume to pick up. We have made plans at the county levels to account for this by requesting additional resources if needed.”

Like all the other professionals on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak, Weisbaum said the community has been phenomenal.

“I’d like to state again how grateful we are to the community for listening to the advice that has been given. It’s a difficult time and isolation can be tough. However, we feel it will make a huge impact in overcoming this,” he said. “This also assists our first responders by limiting exposures, which allows our team to remain healthy and respond when called upon. We are here to help and everyone from all the agencies in the county have worked endlessly and tirelessly to provide up to date information and guidance to those in need.”

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