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Area First Responders Prepared For Pandemic

As the spread of COVID-19 continues across the country, local emergency medical services have continued to be steadfast in responding to situations while making certain adjustments to help prevent the virus’ spread.

“I’d like to think we have the county as well prepared as we can possibly be for what comes,” said John Griffith, Chautauqua County director of emergency services. “No one has ever dealt with something like this before, ever. So, we prepare, we study, we adjust, we make corrections that we feel to make going forward.”

“Our day-to-day operations have not changed,” said Matthew Coon, acting deputy chief of the Jamestown Fire Department. “We are fully operational. We are very well stocked with personal protective equipment. There have been some changes in how some of our medical assessments are done, and that’s on direction from our local medical directors as well as the New York State Department of Health.”

That direction from county medical directors, Dr. Matthew Faulk and Dr. Brian Walters, has included limiting patient contact, according to Kennedy Fire Chief Keith Bean.

“Patient contact is strictly down to one or two people until we find out for sure what we have and then it could be more if need be for a certain type of call,” he said, noting that this adjustment has helped first responders focus on the task at hand.

“Everyone’s worried about (contracting COVID-19),” he added. “Everyone’s thinking about it so we just try to do what we can so we can make it easy for them to work with the patient and worry solely about that and not make it so they are thinking about their own safety. We try to do that for them as much as possible.”

“A lot of (the changes) have to do with how we assess people,” Coon said. “We may approach them a little bit differently. We may approach them from 6 feet away. We have to ask them about their signs and symptoms. Some of it just depends on the nature of a type of call we’re going to. We’re certainly not gowning up and putting masks on for every patient encounter that we have for calls of a medical nature. There has been a little bit of a change on we may approach a scene like that.”

Additionally, Coon said that having the proper personal protective equipment, known as PPE, has also eased concerns from members in his department.

“As long as we’re well-stocked, which we are and we are working in the conjunction with the county to replace any stock that has been used, I think the members can take heart that they do have the appropriate gear and they certainly show the same enthusiasm to go help their citizens just as we always would,” he said.

That process of providing the proper equipment began three weeks ago, according to Griffith, who noted that there remains to be a shortage worldwide.

“We’ve been able to get some equipment,” he said, noting that equipment is disbursed to local departments by the county as soon as it is obtained. “But, there’s a shortage of equipment all the way around. The state changed their ordering process this week to reflect the release of equipment from the national stockpile and even with that, there’s just a shortage of PPE literally worldwide.”

Griffith also stressed that the county has been as transparent as possible with the first responders, crediting County Executive PJ Wendell for his leadership during this time.

“I want to make sure they have the information I have as quickly as possible so that they know what’s going on with COVID-19 across Chautauqua County, of course, but also across New York State,” he said. “The group that County Executive Wendell has set up that is gathering on the county level, every morning we talk and that has been fantastic to make sure the transparency that we get the information to each of our group levels to disseminate it out.”

That transparency began with a county-wide teleconference two weeks ago with all 42 departments, Griffith added, noting that another teleconference with the departments was scheduled to take place Monday.

He added, “We want to make sure people know what’s going on. We would much rather give really good, honest and true information and not rely on rumors and false information.”

Coon echoed Griffith’s sentiments, noting that one of the major challenges of combatting the novel coronavirus outbreak has been the spread of misinformation.

“We’ve been trying to educate patients to basically reassure them that we’re being guided by the New York State Department of Health and our local medical direction,” he said. “Our biggest challenge is trying to dispel a lot of the falsehoods that are out there.”

Griffith added, “What we want to do is deal with as good of information, as good of guidance as we can possibly give and to work with the amount of PPE that we have to make sure that it’s used to its fullest extent and to protect our people.”

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