Dispatching an ambulance takes just minutes, but for the Greenport Rescue Squad and other medical emergency crews around the region, that one call may result in hours of COVID-19 work.
Summoning an ambulance with a 911 call is often taken for granted. The caller may not realize that the process of answering a potential coronavirus call involves complex and detailed protocols that must be followed for the safety of all. And there is the protective equipment that the responders must trust so they can do their jobs. Last but not least, there is the courage of the responders to confront a highly infectious disease.
As the designated transport team for Columbia Memorial Health, the Greenport Rescue Squad does planned transports of known COVID-positive patients. When called to transport a COVID-19 patient home from Columbia Memorial or to Albany Medical Center, Greenport’s emergency-service providers go into action clad in hooded Tyvek suits and Power Air Purifying Respirators, known as PAPRs, which filter the air inside the suit. The suits were purchased amid fears of an Ebola outbreak in 2014 and the PAPRs were bought on eBay from Canada in January.
When they return to the station, Greenport EMS providers begin a time-consuming but necessary multi-step process to decontaminate the ambulance and all equipment.
First, the ambulance is parked outside and the crew places a fan inside to blow out any loose particulates inside the vehicle. Then the ambulance surfaces are sprayed with a disinfecting 10-to-1 bleach mixture. The returning EMS providers, still in their suits, begin an hour-long decontamination protocol.
They are sprayed with bleach, then they wait 10 minutes. They are then hosed down and then step into the shower. Meanwhile, the bleach-sprayed ambulance is washed out with water and crew members place ultraviolet sterilization lights inside the vehicle to kill any remaining traces of the virus. The entire process must be completed before the ambulance can be sent on another call.
In these tumultuous days and perhaps weeks of crisis still to come, the first responders of the Greenport Rescue Squad are doing a complicated and dangerous job in splendid fashion. And they are not alone. They deserve our thanks.