Jay R. Jordan
HOUSTON — Houston firefighters and paramedics fighting on the frontlines of the pandemic will no longer be alerted to potential COVID-19-positive individuals they may encounter on the scene when responding to a call.
This change in procedure ends a practice dispatchers have been implementing since early in the pandemics outset, where 911 callers asking for help have been asked additional questions about whether anyone on location has or is suspected of having the novel coronavirus. This information was then relayed to Houston Fire Department personnel responding to any type of call, from a house fire to a shower fall.
But on Tuesday – the same day as many firefighters were attending the funeral of HFD Capt. Leroy Lucio – fire department brass sent a department-wide memo detailing how personnel responding to calls will no longer receive these alerts. Lucio died in a San Antonio hospital July 20 after battling the virus.
In the memo, Asst. Fire Chief Matthew White said there is an “increasing difficulty” for 911 dispatchers to determine if someone on location has the virus.
“In the best interest of HFD members’ health and wellbeing, all addresses and patients should be considered as possible COVID-19 positive places and patients,” White said. “No attempts should be made or opinions formed to consider and treat any patient as ‘non-COVID.’”
Marty Lancton, president of the Houston firefighters’ union, said the change could spell danger for HFD personnel.
“Having less information about COVID-19 infections is dangerous for firefighters, paramedics and the public,” Lancton said. “Why would the city refuse to track that information? It’s a mystery to us.”
Firefighters are ordered to wear protective gear such as masks and gloves when treating patients. They’re also told to be aware of anyone in the vicinity of the site.
As of Wednesday, Houston-area cases increased by 2,148 to 96,586 cases total, according to the Houston Chronicle. On Harris County, cases increased by 1,465 to 67,660 cases total. The Houston region reported 43 new deaths and is now at 1,490 deaths total.
©2020 the Houston Chronicle
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