The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that the Alexandria Fire Department does business.
While there are currently no AFD personnel who have exhibited symptoms, the department is responding to an uptick in COVID-19-related emergency calls.
“We’re definitely seeing more calls for fever and body aches, but it hasn’t been an exponential increase,” Deputy Fire Chief Brian Hricik told ALXnow. “It’s been four or five, maybe even six calls a day where it’s flu like symptoms is what we’re looking for — the cough, body aches, fevers, those types of things. We might go to a residence for somebody that’s having a heart attack, and if the family member that’s sitting right next to them is coughing and sneezing, and within six feet of us, then we need to be prepared to protect ourselves.”
Hricik is the deputy planning section chief for the city’s Emergency Operations Center, and coordinates response efforts for the fire department, the Alexandria Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office.
Fire Chief Corey Smedley says Hricik is the man for the job.
“One of my first decisions as Fire Chief was to promote Deputy Chief Hricik,” Smedley told ALXnow. “He has been with the department for 23 years and continues to show great leadership and knowledge. He has been leading our efforts to ensure the safety of our members and our community throughout this pandemic. Hricik cares about AFD and the Alexandria community, so he’s the right person for the job especially during these uncertain times.”
There are currently 36 cases of COVID-19 in Alexandria.
Hricik said that first responders are wearing personal protective equipment, distancing themselves from patients and taking minimal equipment into buildings. He also said that 911 operators are screening callers to determine if they are symptomatic, and AFD staff are routinely taking their temperatures and changing clothes.
“EMS is not generally great with responding to flu-like emergencies and protecting ourselves. We’ll often run catch coughs, sneezes, sniffles on a routine basis, especially when flu season starts,” he said. “Now we’re much more purposely moving forward in a slower pace to say, okay, we’re going to send one person in and start asking questions probably at that 10-to-six-foot mark away from the patient or for family members and start asking questions about what’s happening, how we can help, what are the symptoms that they’re having and those types of things. If they have a cough or if they’ve had a fever, we’re handing them a surgical mask to put on themselves first, and then we also have on all of our gowns, gloves, goggles and masks.”
Hricik said the city’s first responders and law enforcement are now rationing personal protective equipment.
“I think right now we have a handle on what we have in stock. We’ve put some measures in place so that we’re not wasteful with it,” he said. “If we end up getting a New York-style expansion, then there’s no way we’re going to survive on what we have.”
Hricik said that the biggest challenge for the department is the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“We’re trying to plan. If we have one patient, our response looks like this, if we have 10 patients, then our response looks different,” he said. “There’s 140,000 to 150,000 people in the city of Alexandria, and if everybody ended up getting it, how do we deal with that? How do we prepare for that? If we have 40 [infected] people in the city and that’s our top number, then I’m confident we’ve got it under control. If we end up having 40,000 people in the city, and that’s our top number, that’s a completely different ballgame.”
Photo via Alexandria Fire Department/Facebook