New normal for first responders: Ski patrollers joining ambulance crews, masks all around
Local paramedic, emergency crews adapt to COVID-19 conditions
EAGLE COUNTY — The new reality for first responders throughout the valley involves everything from bringing in help from unexpected sources to extra protection for both first responders and the people they are helping.
“My staff has been absolutely amazing, working out new ways to address this situation,” said Chris Montera, the CEO of Eagle County Paramedic Services.
For example, local ambulance crews will soon include ski patrol personnel. Montera noted that, nationwide, one of the concerns about the COVID-19 impact is that medical corps may be decimated as health care workers have contact with patients and potentially contract the disease. That scenario has health officials concerned about a shortage of trained health care workers. But in this valley, there was an untapped human resource to address the potential problem.
“One of my staff had the idea is that because the ski patrolmen are out of work since the mountain closed down, we could cross-train them to work on the ambulances if needed.”
That cross-training has been launched as 20 members of Vail Resorts’ patrol personnel agreed to the plan. “They are this great extra capacity we will have for the next 90 days,” Montera said.
Masks all around
Masks are now a standard part of the local paramedic uniform.
“All of our paramedics are wearing masks on all calls and they are having patients masked as well,” Montera said. “Even when they are off duty, we are asking our people to model the behavior that the governor has requested and wear masks out in public.”
To date, Montera said local ambulance crews have responded to around 150 COVID-19 related calls. That number includes everything from community paramedic check-ups to emergency calls from patients who are experiencing difficulty breathing to the transportation of patients to different facilities.
The Eagle County Paramedic Services administrators and support service personnel are working from home and when field personnel report to work, the first thing they do is fill out a wellness form on their phones. The second thing they do is check their temperatures and record the data.
“We want to make sure everyone is healthy when they start work,” Montera said.
Montera noted that the COVID-19 protocols may live on after the disease has been contained.
“I think this experience will make us more aware to wear masks around our patients, especially patients who have flu-like symptoms,” he said.
The local experience has also demonstrated the importance of having the proper equipment on hand. Unlike other parts of the country, Montera said Eagle County has an adequate supply of personal protective equipment. That’s because of two factors — local entities already had PPE in stock and local health officials were quick to respond to the threat of COVID-19.
“We started meeting with representatives from the hospital on Feb. 3 and that’s when we started talking about what would happen if a patient appeared in the community,” Montera said. Because of that early preparedness, local officials were able to order supplies before there was burgeoning demand for equipment.
Montera also noted that a dramatic drop in calls for service is also aiding local COVID-19 emergency crews. Gypsum Fire Chief Justin Kirkland echoed that observation.
“People just arent out there doing things and generating calls for us,” Kirkland said.
Like quarantined residents everywhere, local first responders said they are focused on the now of the COVID-19.
“We are still just trying to manage where we are now. We don’t know what the new normal is yet,” Kirkland said. “But emergency service is such a unique animal that we will have to adapt to whatever becomes normal for our society.”
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