Port Clinton Fire Department grapples with COVID-19 challenges

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Paramedic Kurt Clausen, left, and EMT Donna Fick display the wide range of protective equipment needed for every emergency run they make for the Port Clinton Fire Department. The gear ranges from surgical masks and gowns to face shields and a stationary UV-C light for killing airborne pathogens in an ambulance. (Photos by D’Arcy Egan)

BY D’ARCY EGAN

Chief Kent Johnson and the Port Clinton Fire Department have to treat everyone the fire and rescue crews provide assistance to as if COVID-19 is involved. It’s an expensive way to do business.

“As of this week, we’ve made 1,031 EMT runs this year,” said Johnson. “Whether the symptoms are there or not, COVID-19 is so widespread now that we are forced to treat everyone as being positive for COVID-19.”

That requires an enormous amount of special Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for EMTs and paramedics, and high-tech gear in the department’s ambulances to keep them clean and sanitizied.

“Early on, we realized that PPE was going to be critical, and we started purchasing gowns, surgical masks, P100 Respirators, N95 Masks, gloves, face shields and, of course, the disinfectants and high-tech units to clean the squads and the station,” said Johnson.

The department purchased two UV-C lights for disinfecting the patient compartments of the squads, along with specific uniforms and gear worn by the staff. Thanks to donations, the department also purchased Nexeum Air Purifiers for the transport squad and duty squad.

To safely handle the steady stream of people being rescued by the Port Clinton Fire Department’s EMT squads, a Power-Pro ambulance cot that costs $28,000 can easily handle people weighing up to 700 pounds. It features a battery-powered hydraulic system to raise and lower the cot at the touch of a button to get people in and out of an ambulance.

“We care about people, of course, and we have to care about ourselves, as well,” said Johnson. “If we didn’t dress the way we do for every call, someone might get infected. Because of our stringent protocols for station cleaning, staff monitoring, extra uniforms and good hygiene practices, we’ve been COVID-19 free since the beginning.

“We’re all very proud of how our staff has handled themselves during the pandemic.”

Johnson said CARES Act funding purchased a LifePack 15 Cardio Monitor with Capnography to handle patients showing respiratory symptoms, cardiac symptoms or were unresponsive. Another one of the $32,000 units will be acquired with tax-deductible funds donated to the Port Clinton Firefighters Association.

The firemen’s group is at a disadvantage this year because its annual fundraiser, a Feather Party held in November, has been cancelled because of social distancing regulations by the Ohio Department of Health.

“We’ve welcomed donations,” said Johnson. “It’s how our fire department survives. While staying away from general fund dollars, we have been able to purchase PPE equipment.”

Department records show that daily PPE costs include gowns ($3.75 each, two per minimum on each run); surgical masks ($.75 each, two per minimum on each run); gloves ($1 each, eight minimum per run); face shields ($46, reusable, 16 in stock); face shields (disposable, $12.50 each, 24 in stock); safety goggles, $9, reusable, 25 in stock); P100 respirators ($46 each, reusable, 40 issued to staff).

“Keeping everything sanitized and maintaining overall cleanliness is critical,” Johnson said. “That includes showers for the crew after every run and sanitizing uniforms, equipment and the truck.

“Since we can’t know if someone has COVID-19, the only option is to treat everyone as if they are positive.”

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