Galesburg Fire Dept., IAFF share importance of PPE for first responders

Published: Mar. 30, 2020 at 11:17 PM CDT
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Now more than ever our nation’s first responders are working around the clock, risking their lives to take care of the sick.

For firefighters that could mean anything from running into a burning building to responding to a medical call.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, medical calls are becoming more crucial, with the threat of exposure to the virus.

Doug Stern, Director of Strategic Campaigns and Media Relations for the

said, “firefighters, EMTs and paramedics are that first link to the public health chain for most Americans during the normal times, but especially during a pandemic.”

As fire departments work to respond to calls in their communities, they are now taking extra precautions to keep their members safe.

Deputy Chief Brad Stevenson of the Galesburg Fire Department told TV6, “Our goal is to obviously continue to provide patient care to everyone while maintaining our own safety.”

The risk of exposure, Stevenson said, can be managed and possibly prevented by having the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Stern said it is important to have more testing to determine if firefighters and EMS personnel are negative for COVID-19 so they can return more quickly to work after an exposure, or if they are positive, so they can get the treatment needed to recover quickly.

"It's important that firefighters have the masks they need, the gowns they need the gloves, and everything else that they need to keep themselves from being exposed so the community they serve doesn't have any additional exposures," said Stern.

Stern said, “I’ve got to tell you, a lot of citizens have been helping out. We've seen donations across the country. Certainly that's impactful and important, but we're talking about the needs of millions, if not billions of masks when this is all said and done.”

For the Galesburg Fire Department, they understand the need for PPE and how quickly the supplies can deplete. “Like everybody else, ours started to run short,” said Stevenson.

Stevenson said the department carries a certain level of PPE on their rigs anyway, including N95 masks, so they made sure they had enough, but as the virus began to take a toll on the U.S. and Illinois, it became clear they needed more supplies.

“We have established a written COVID policy and within a week I have revised that like five times.”

Stevenson told TV6 thanks to a generous donation from Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg of N95 masks, face shields, gowns and gloves, they will be able to continue to operate at the level necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We've re-written our policies as to how we should handle our response to each and every EMS response call," said Stevenson, “that began with strictly taking respiratory precautions if the dispatchers advised we need to. That recommended PPE for that is a face shield and mask, EMS gloves, and a cover gown. We have those in what we call our BSI kits.”

He said the policy has continuously been revised as they learn more about COVID-19.

“One benchmark was when it hit Knox County,” said Stevenson of a confirmed COVID-19 case announced Friday.

Stevenson said an initial patient assessment is now performed, all while social distancing. He explained it is conducted to involve the least amount of people on a call, if possible.

“If the whole call can be handled by one person, then that’s our recommendation,” he said.

If a patient is identified by either dispatchers after a series of questions or by EMS and fire personnel as a case with possible respiratory symptoms, additional measures, including a second layer of PPE will be donned.

The IAFF said to date, more than 200 members have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Over 2,500 have been quarantined.

Three firefighters who self-quarantined out of precaution were on the Galesburg Fire Department.

Stevenson said the patient was unconscious and unable to communicate at the time of the call, but after the firefighters left for the day, the hospital identified the patient as meeting qualifications for COVID-19 testing.

As a precaution, while the patient and department awaited test results, which took approximately 72 hours, the firefighters self-quarantined. The test came back negative for the virus.

“It was a call that required immediate life-saving measures to be taken. It was just ahead of this concern for masking up on everything. They did perform their call with just their gloves on.”

With the three Galesburg firefighters back on the job, a quick scare for the department is a reality faced by many across the United States.

For the latest numbers and data collected by the IAFF, you can visit their