The Santa Fe New Mexican
SANTA FE, N.M. — It’s one thing to call 911.
It’s quite another to have 911 dial you.
But against the backdrop of the novel coronavirus, that is the new reality for the Santa Fe Fire Department, which has altered many of the procedures it has relied on for years.
The department’s first responders say the most valuable tool in their ambulance now may be the cellphone, which allows them to gauge what kinds of problems they may be dealing with before they arrive at a scene.
“The [department] got us cellphones for every ambulance,” longtime paramedic Dustin Archuleta said. “When responding to a call, we can actually call the patient before making contact in person.”
He said paramedics usually ask patients about their symptoms and can help talk them through first aid, but a phone call also gives them a warning if the person is displaying COVID-19 symptoms.
Archuleta has worked as a paramedic most of the decade he’s been with the department and remembers when masks were used only when patients were coughing a lot, or there were a lot of fluids at a scene. Now, he wears one at all times, along with goggles and gloves. And if a caller is concerned about exposing responders to the coronavirus, the crew also dons disposable gowns.
After returning from a call, or even as they start a shift, captains stand at the door to take temperatures, just in case.
Capt. Brian Moya, the department’s health and safety officer, said the department is running low on full-face goggles and is waiting for an order to arrive. Though such shortages are now common at medical facilities, battalion Chief Phill Martinez said the department “isn’t nervous yet” about the levels of masks and gowns.
But he acknowledges the gear is valuable, noting it has come in handy at key moments in the past few weeks.
“We’ve had a couple of personnel transport someone who was positive for COVID-19. He was coughing all over, and with their PPE [personal protective equipment] on, they came back negative,” Martinez said. “So we’re going to continue to have all teams respond to medical calls and accidents with gloves, goggles and N95 masks.”
He said one first responder quarantined himself in a camper for two weeks waiting for a test after a potential exposure.
“It was pretty scary for those guys,” Martinez said. “One of them, poor guy, he had to stay away from his kids, but in the long run, we’re thankful he wore his PPE properly and it protected him.”
The new ways haven’t come without a cost. Moya said the department hasn’t been able to train as it would have in a world before COVID-19. The department’s academy now adheres to social distancing, with four recruits and a teacher working at a time on alternating days and increasing their online workload.
“We feel cadets are essential because if it gets worse, if we lose staffing levels, we’re going to need as many as we can” get, Moya said.
With most department members living outside the city, Moya said officials are looking at options to provide either spaces to isolate away from family or temporary lodging for firefighters.
“We have about five hotels in place ready to house us,” Moya said, adding one hotel donated 10 rooms for use and has laundry service and food ready.
“As soon as it’s needed,” he said, “we can activate that plan.”
©2020 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)