With the coronavirus spreading quickly across the nation, Cape Ann’s police and fire personnel could see staff shortages, contaminated facilities and high increases of emergency calls. So the departments are taking extra precaution to keep staff and the greater public safe.

All are disinfecting their vehicles, supplies and facilities religiously, and most departments have retained services from various disinfecting companies. Once a week, cleaners hose down all supplies and flat surfaces with an electrostatic charge disinfectant spray.

“We’re doing everything we can, but supplies and personnel are limited,” said Gloucester EMS Coordinator Jonathan Sanger. “I think we’re doing over and above what other places are doing, but I would much rather have an abundance of caution because one case could be catastrophic.”

The regional 911 dispatch forward over all contact information to Gloucester Police and Fire whenever a call is made. While en route, first responders contact the caller to see if the patient is infected with coronavirus or showing any symptoms. If the answer is yes, they suit up before reaching their destination. 

“All of our firefighters are in full PPE (personal protective equipment),” said Sanger. Once the call is taken care of, “the truck returns to the station, the people on the call strip down their PPE and throw it in a contamination bag. They put their uniforms in the washing machine, shower and change into clean uniform. All the while, another crew puts on light PPE and disinfects the truck front to back, and all the equipment.”

Enough PPE for time being

Nationwide, EMS and hospital personnel are reporting a shortage in PPE. Gloucester has enough supplies for the time being.

“I don’t think anyone is well stocked in PPE right now,” Sanger admitted, “but I do give credit to (Firefighter Sander Schultz) on stocking us up during the H1N1 and ebola scares, so we weren’t as bad off other departments. I was able to also order in some stuff early on, but we’re going through it through a rapid pace at this point.”

The department has also received multiple PPE donations from members of the public.

“People just stopped by the station and donated,” said Sanger. “It’s been really nice seeing the community come together like that.”

Sanger said employees are extensively cleaning all railings, door knobs, surfaces and “everything that is touched or open to air” at the station.  

“We’re trying to reinforce what (the state and CDC) keep saying about distancing,” Sanger said. “If people aren’t cutting down their social activities, we’re never going to get ahead of this.” 

Similar disinfecting measures are being taken in Rockport.

“Our Ambulance Department treats every call as if there is the potential for exposure by utilizing the appropriate PPE,” said Town Administrator Mitch Vieira by email. “Our police are doing the same; they are continuing routine operations while following social distancing and PPE best practices.”

Surfaces at all town-owned buildings are being sanitized multiple times a day, in addition to weekly electrostatic sanitizing machine disinfection, according to Vieira.

As for PPE, Rockport has everything needed for the time being. 

“It’s hard to determine how long it will last,” Vieira said. “That is based, in part, on the number of calls for service that the department receives. ... Residents should contact their doctor if they are experiencing symptoms and have questions about COVID-19; calling 911 should be restricted to emergencies.”

Altered schedules

Since Gov. Charlie Baker called a state of emergency earlier this month, Manchester police Chief Todd Fitzgerald has altered officers’ schedules to minimize exposure. 

“We’re doing 12-hour shifts, seven days on, seven days off, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” he explained. “Typically, we do 8 hour shifts, 4 days on, 2 days off. We’re going to reevaluate it to see how it’s working on April 3.”

Fitzgerald said the department will have enough PPE to sustain themselves if calls rise 5 percent in the next two weeks. 

So far, two employees have self-quarantined after reporting symptoms. One officer’s test recently came back negative and is cleared to come back to work; a dispatcher is currently at home awaiting results. 

“We’re staying on top of it here,” said Fitzgerald. “We’ve been very proactive rather than reactive. I just feel that if we have people get sick or come down with symptoms for our staff, it won’t take much for us to have to rely on other departments.”

Essex police Chief Paul Francis and fire Chief Daniel Doucette could not be reached for comment for this story.

Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki said officials are looking to hire the same disinfecting company Manchester uses for its electrostatic cleaning. 

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

Recommended for you