No matter how bad the COVID-19 pandemic gets, fires will break out, people will commit crimes and others will need immediate medical attention.
Those emergencies mean first responders, such as firefighters, police and emergency medical personnel, have to keep working through the crisis. But area agencies have taken steps to protect their employees and the public.
The Morgantown Police Department has stopped performing administrative functions, such as picking up reports, in person, but is still taking requests by phone and email, Chief Ed Preston said.
Officers are also taking reports for crimes such as a stolen bike over the phone, rather than in person, Preston said.
The Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department has similarly limited it’s office proceedings, Sheriff Perry Palmer said. The department is only renewing concealed carry permits through mail and has stopped issuing new permits.
Both the Public Safety Building and Sheriff’s Department building are closed to the public.
MPD has also stopped all in-person training and has its officers report for duty and get their shift briefings from the car, rather than the pre-shift group meeting in the station, in order to limit person-to-person exposure, Preston said.
He said shifts at the MPD are now 12 hours and officers have been split into four “pods” so that shifts don’t have to interact with each other.
Personal protective equipment, such as gloves and masks, are also being used by officers and increased cleaning is also being practiced.
Westover Police Chief Rick Panico said his department has cut back on its proactive approach of looking for offenders to “you do something that calls our attention to you we will interdict to see what the reason was that brought you to our attention.”
Then depending on the reason, a citation could be issued or a warrant obtained, Pancio said.
However, all three department heads made one thing clear, people who need to be arrested will be.
Morgantown Fire Department Chief Mark Caravasos said the department has taken “all sorts of precautions.”
Caravasos, his secretary and the fire marshals now work from home.
Fire stations have been locked down to visitors, even family,
Caravasos said. Preventing the spread of the virus in the firehouses is essential to prevent staffing problems. To that end, Caravasos has also told his guys to practice proper social distancing in the stations.
Firefighters are wearing PPE when they interact with the public and are attempting to limit the number of people who go into a residence and checking to see if the residents are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 prior to going in, Caravasos said.
Cleaning routines have been enhanced and equipment is cleaned after every call.
Mon EMS Director Forest Weyen said decontamination cleaning is almost an hourly ritual now.
Medics have been educated on how to properly take PPE off without unintentionally exposing themselves to the virus and PPE is now put on before exiting the ambulance, rather than if the call requires it.
Because EMS crews can’t avoid going into people’s homes, they are limiting what they take in to the essentials for that call, rather than everything that could possibly be needed, so that less equipment needs disinfected, Weyen said.
“It adds some logistical frustrations to crews,” he said. “It changes our workflow but everyone is handling that well.”
Social distancing is being practiced at the EMS station and the communal dinner table has been replaced with several smaller ones spread around the room, Weyen said.
There’s also a focus on getting information to medics as quickly as possible so they know when they might be walking into an environment with COVID-19, such as a nursing home with a spike.
Mon EMS has responded to 911 calls involving people who later tested positive for COVID-19 and has also transported COVID-19 patients from care facilities to hospitals, Weyen said.
There are some Mon EMS employees in isolation because of contact with COVID-19 patients, Weyen said.
The department is hiring eight-12 drivers who will be paired with an EMT or paramedic to ensure calls can still be answered down the road.
Weyen said it’s not an ideal situation but West Virginia law allows it in certain situations, such as this one.
Job requirements and a link to apply are available on the Monongalia EMS Facebook page.