New policies to keep firefighters safe during pandemic

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Poughkeepsie firefighters Brian Ineson and Eric Stroka, both kneeling, work to revive an overdose victim, under the supervision of Lt. Brad Valentine on left.

POUGHKEEPSIE – Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison used his time at Monday’s council meeting to cover several topics, including issues facing police, firefighters, and EMS technicians amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve been exceptionally lucky that our PD and FD have not experienced any issues during this crisis,” Rolison said.  He added that he had conversations with the city’s ambulance provider, Mobile Life, who indicated that, to date, things were going well.

Rolison indicated that the fire department has taken precautions to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, including locking down the three firehouses to the public and cleaning equipment on a regular schedule.  He reminded the council that the firefighters on duty are with their coworkers for a full 24-hour tour which requires added precautions.

Fire Chief Mark Johnson told Mid-Hudson News that his department, and the city, have taken several initiatives to prevent the virus from spreading.  The fire department normally responds with a crew to all 911 calls for medical issues.  Johnson said the department is now only responding to “Priority 1 EMS calls which include auto accidents and any calls involving mechanical injuries.”  

The chief added that when his firefighters respond to EMS calls, the patient evaluation is done at the prescribed distance until further information can be obtained.  Regarding the use of masks and gloves, Johnson said, “All personnel have prescribed PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) when dealing with patients.”  Additionally, firefighters that are working overtime shifts are only allowed to work at their assigned station, rather than moving between stations.  The same policy is currently in effect for the “floating” firefighters who do not have a permanent assignment. Those firefighters are limited to the station they were assigned to when the policy took effect.

Poughkeepsie firefighters and police, wearing masks and gloves, work to revive an overdose victim.

On Tuesday, Poughkeepsie firefighters assigned to Engine 2 out of the Main Street firehouse, were responsible for saving the life of a man that had overdosed on heroin and had been found “unresponsive” in the parking lot of the Rite Aid on Main Street.  Firefighters Brian Ineson and Eric Stroka, wearing protective masks and gloves, administered Narcan and used resuscitation equipment to revive the patient.  Within minutes, the man was brought back to life.  He stood up, ignored the advice of all first responders, refused medical attention, and walked away as police, firefighters, and Mobile Life medics encouraged him to take the ambulance ride to the hospital.

The revived heroin user (in red) prepares to leave after being brought back to life.

The Fairview Fire Department in the Town of Poughkeepsie has also instituted policies to help reduce the spread of the virus.  Chief Chris Maeder said that operational changes went into effect in mid-March, including the suspension of child car seat installation, public education, fire station visits, and outside conferences or training sessions.  Maeder said, “We locked down the station to where only on-duty staff are allowed into the building to minimize the possibility of contamination.”

Incident response has also changed, according to Maeder.  All firefighters are wearing N-95 respirators on every call pursuant to State Department of Health EMS guidelines.  Because of the dynamic situation, Maeder said, “We have chosen to wear full PPE for all patients regardless of symptoms from the beginning of the situation.”  Fairview Fire Department runs their own staffed ambulance in the district.  The chief added that the ambulance goes through a full “decon” after every call and they have the ability to use a misting machine if necessary.

Fairview’s “Fire Drill Challenge”.

Maeder and his department have an aggressive public education program that has been impacted by the pandemic but they have made adjustments to continue the program.  The department is using social media messages and a new home evacuation drill, known as the “Fire Drill Challenge” to continue educating the residents of the district.