Local Rescue Squads’ Pandemic Preparedness

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Western Albemarle Rescue Squad volunteers Virginia Clark and Stephanie Weaver.

Kostas Alibertis, chief of the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad (WARS), understands that the Coronavirus has the potential to disrupt Emergency Medical Services (EMS) throughout the country. A protocol is now in place implementing screening questions that are a phased response to the crisis. 

Alibertis described the squad as being “proactive” and well-equipped with personal protection equipment to limit the exposure of all volunteers. They are now using Zoom to avoid any group, in-person meetings.  

The squad continues to receive the calls for accidents and acute illness and has confidence that the 911 screening requirements accurately identify coronavirus symptoms. There are national dispatch standards for 911 to screen callers for fever, extent of travel and contact with others. Before transport, the squad volunteer must alert the hospital about any mitigating circumstances. Not all patients seen by EMS qualify for transport. According to protocol, some people are advised to stay at home. 

Alibertis recommends that the community get information from official sources such as the Virginia Department of Health (vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus). Some news sources may not distinguish between presumptive positive Covid19 cases and test-confirmed positive cases.  The positive case numbers continue to grow and change even though “social distancing” is the new normal. 

Wintergreen Fire and Rescue Chief Curtis Sheetz said the current emergency changes some of their protocols. Equipment is now rationed and careful consideration is given to what can be reused. Crews are separated into different buildings to reduce contagion risk. Two condos at Wintergreen were rented for the squad’s use. Initially, Sheetz thought this may be an extreme step, but he now agrees it was well-considered. One is currently used to isolate rescue volunteers waiting for the testing results ordered for those served. 

The squad planned to hire additional Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) in the fall, but moved the plan up and has hired two new EMTs with another in prospect. Many of the volunteers are over 60 years old, so with Virginia now loosening some of the normal state requirements, younger snowplow drivers have been trained as ambulance drivers with 15 hours of training. 

Wintergreen shares personnel and protective equipment with the all-volunteer Rockfish Valley Volunteer Fire and Rescue (RVVFR) in Afton. A pair of medical professionals are leading the medical unit of RVVFR. Teresa Davis, Augusta Medical Center Clinical Lab Technologist is the EMS Captain and Tony Reeves, a University of Virginia Health System employee, is the EMS Lieutenant.   Davis may be contacted at [email protected]   

Questions about coronavirus COVID-19 are directed locally to the Virginia Department of Health Thomas Jefferson Health District Hotline (434) 972- 6261 or visit VDH.virginia.gov/coronavirus for information.  

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