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West Bloomfield fire chief reviews tactics, trends during pandemic

By: Andy Kozlowski | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published June 4, 2020

 Ryan Glashauser, a firefighter-paramedic with the West Bloomfield Fire Department, disinfects the patient compartment of a WBFD ambulance using an electrostatic gun to evenly apply the solution.

Ryan Glashauser, a firefighter-paramedic with the West Bloomfield Fire Department, disinfects the patient compartment of a WBFD ambulance using an electrostatic gun to evenly apply the solution.

Photo provided by Fire Chief Gregory Flynn

WEST BLOOMFIELD — For firefighters and paramedics, the pandemic has meant altering their approach both in the field and back at the base.

The West Bloomfield Fire Department services its namesake community, and Orchard Lake, Sylvan Lake and Keego Harbor. West Bloomfield Fire Chief Gregory Flynn said in an email that his firefighter/paramedics are “critical thinkers” and that their thoughtful approach starts with how they prepare.

This includes the establishment of a “hot zone” in the apparatus room, near the trucks. There, the crews remove their house shoes and switch into their work footwear. When a call comes in for service, their personal protection equipment is already prepped within the hot zone, ready to be worn. This equipment is then discarded upon returning to the hot zone. Before they step out of the hot zone and back into the station, the crews use sanitizers and disinfectant.

“These best practices reduce the risk of indirect transmission of the virus in the engine house,” Flynn said. “The department has always been prepared to deal with an infectious disease response. The real challenge, early on in the pandemic, was assurance that the disinfectants we were using were effective against the novel coronavirus.”

To this end, the department purchased an electrostatic spray gun to apply the disinfectant solution. Flynn explained that the gun applies a charge to the solution’s molecules as they are discharged, promoting an even distribution that more thoroughly cleans the surface.

The chief noted that, early on in the pandemic, in March and April, the department’s calls for medical aid related to COVID-19 symptoms sharply increased. In late April and into May, the numbers returned to the department’s daily average range, where they have remained since.

“Our initial surge of COVID-19 symptomatic patients impacted our operations,” Flynn said. “After each call with a symptomatic patient, the ambulance was disinfected, along with the equipment used to treat the patient. The process of disinfecting is work-intensive and time-consuming when done safely.

“We had to adapt quickly to the logistics of decontaminating our resources,” he continued. “The decontamination process was initially restricted to a single location because of limited supply of disinfectant and the tools needed to apply the product. Within a few weeks, we expanded the capabilities to two additional sites in the township.”

The chief said that many predictive models led the department to prepare for a large surge of infected patients, so the department’s plan placed both backup ambulances into service, providing seven ambulances 24 hours a day to residents in the four communities the department serves.

“The stress level was intense for our team,” Flynn said. “Overnight, the crews had changed how they were living in the engine house. Major news networks were reporting stories that were not aligning with the reality our staff was facing. Isolation and quarantine guidance was changing daily for health care providers. Paramedics were receiving amended prehospital care protocols intended to protect providers but (that) conflicted with decades of training. And finally, there was the lingering fear of being responsible for bringing the virus home to loved ones.”

And with the virus still out there, precautions continue to be taken. The 911 dispatchers will keep screening callers for COVID-19 symptoms for the foreseeable future.

“Being honest with your answers will assure a safe response for everyone involved,” Flynn said. “As we move to reopen our community, please recognize that we are not finished — we are moving to the next step in a long process. We step forward more informed and better prepared.”