SALT LAKE CITY — First responders are listed as 'essential' employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, although it's slightly obvious that they are essential year round.
These essential employees include paramedics and EMTs who respond to emergency calls throughout Utah via Gold Cross Ambulance.
“I’ve been incredibly impressed with the crews and being able to respond to these calls knowing they’re potentially putting themselves at risk but they’re still coming, they’re still doing it, day after day," said Gold Cross Ambulance Training Director Jamon Smith.
Gold Cross has been providing ambulance transport since 1968. They respond to calls in Salt Lake, Washington, Uintah, Utah, Iron and Juab Counties.
The pandemic has prompted the company to take additional safety measures in a line of work that already focuses on protection for it's employees when dealing with patients.
“It’s (COVID-19) impacted just about every aspect of our operations,” said Smith. “Everything from how we prepare before we’re going on calls to receiving calls, taking care of patients, taking them to the hospital and then getting ready for the next patient.”
Dispatchers are asking patients if they are experiencing any flu-like symptoms or three key symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath) that are associated with the novel coronavirus. Paramedics and EMT's who respond to the calls have ramped up personal protection by using masks and gowns more frequently. Prior to the pandemic, most calls could be responded to with just protective gloves.
“Masks have been the biggest issue for us along with all the other agencies and hospital staff throughout the state and the nation," said Smith citing the changing supply and demand for N-95 masks. “That has been one of the biggest challenges for us in being able to provide the personal protective equipment that our crews need.”
Those on the front lines are using the same practices that many are told to do during the pandemic which includes constant hand-washing, practicing social distancing and sanitizing frequently touched surfaces.
“Any time we’re transporting a patient that is positive for COVID-19 or a person under investigation or someone we’re suspecting may have the virus are decontamination process after is much more intensive,” said Smith. The company is using a 'cold misting fogger' in the back of their ambulances to sanitize and help prevent the spread of the virus.
It's not known statistically if call volume has increased for Gold Cross during the last few weeks but the pandemic has increased safety measures taken by those answering the call.
“They’re here to help people and they want to be that person that someone can turn to in their time of need," said Smith.