The COVID-19 pandemic has created unique challenges for healthcare workers and emergency personnel. And nowhere have these challenges been more acute – and the response been more reassuring – than at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad.
Virtually every aspect of the Rescue Squad’s operations have been impacted by the pandemic. New protocols help to identify and screen potential COVID-19 patients when they call. Emergency crews have adapted new measures to limit exposure to such patients, for example, by asking to meet ambulatory patients at the front door. The number of crew members interacting with a COVID-19 patient is limited to reduce the risk for emergency personnel and reducing the use of sometimes scarce personal protective equipment (PPE). Of course, if more personnel are needed – such as on calls for cardiac arrest or traumatic injures – a full complement of PPE-equipped and trained personnel provide emergency care. And once a patient has been transported to the hospital and care has been transferred, BCCRS personnel follow comprehensive decontamination and cleaning procedures both at the hospital and back at the station. These time-consuming efforts are essential for keeping subsequent patients, emergency crews, and their families and friends safe.
BCCRS’ response to the pandemic has been guided by a unique group of volunteer paramedics, firefighters and EMS personnel, several of which have specialized public health backgrounds. Megan O’Brien, a Ph.D epidemiologist by day, chairs the Squad’s COVID-19 task force. Other members include personnel with advanced degrees in health care, statistics, and modeling. BCCRS’ analysis and insights have helped inform and shape Montgomery County’s successful emergency response to the pandemic.
Operationally, BCCRS bolstered its staffing to respond to the early surge in COVID-19 patients. BCCRS volunteers provided more than 1,400 hours of surge staffing – placing extra ambulances and paramedic units in service beyond the Squad’s normal compliment of units. During the height of the surge, BCCRS responded to approximately 250 COVID-19 patients. And while the peak is down, BCCRS and other units in Montgomery County continue to respond to emergency calls from patients with actual or suspected COVID-19 – and continue to follow the heightened protocols that keep patients, crews and others safe.
The Squad also has increased its fundraising efforts during the pandemic to cover the higher costs of COVID-19 specifically (such as PPE and advanced cleaning equipment) and the higher operating costs of operating at surge capacity. Unlike other local fire/rescue departments in Montgomery County, the majority of staffing at BCCRS is provided by volunteer personnel, and relies primarily on donations from the community to fund its operations.
The pandemic has presented unique challenges to our health care system and emergency response agencies. BCCRS – like other local fire/rescue departments in the County – is meeting this challenge through dedication, hard work, and the unique talent and backgrounds of hundreds of volunteer paramedic, firefighters and EMTs.
John Bentivoglio is Vice President and Volunteer Firefighter/EMT of Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad
Image provided by BCCRS