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Central dispatch, city fire changes operations

The Marquette City Fire Department on South Third Street is pictured. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — Confirmed cases of COVID-19 are expected to rise, and first responders are taking extra precautions.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, any individual who makes a 911 call is being asked a series of basic questions to screen them for possible exposure prior to the arrival of first responders, explained Marquette County Central Dispatch Manager Gary Johnson.

“The questions we’re asking all callers, especially for EMS … allows us to then inform the responders ahead of time so they can take the appropriate precautions when they encounter these folks,” Johnson said. “Fever, cough, shortness of breath, and then also we inquire if anyone is under investigation or has been tested and are awaiting results, those kinds of questions we inquire (about) so we can make the appropriate response.”

Because central dispatch is housed in the Michigan State Police Negaunee Post, both staff have worked together to limit visitors and nonessential people in the post, he added.

“Another thing that we do is, each shift, when they come on, they have to disinfect their work area and when they leave their shift, they disinfect it. We also have additional cleaning being done almost daily in our dispatch center,” Johnson said. “We do have a company lined up that if we need to do a full disinfect of the work area we can do that as well.”

Central dispatch is also working with other Upper Peninsula dispatch centers in case of staff shortages.

“Our employees understand the nature of their work and how important it is, so they are taking every precaution they can to stay healthy,” Johnson said. “We have plans in place of varying levels if we have staff shortages, and we’ve even reached out to some of our retirees, and they would be willing to come in and help if it gets to the point where we need help to cover a shift or two, so we’ve done as much as we certainly can to prepare for the worst-case scenario.”

All police, fire and EMS have changed their operations in response to the pandemic, but the changes vary by agency, he noted.

The Marquette City Fire Department has changed its pre-work protocols at both its stations to lower possible risk of exposure.

“Before the crews are allowed to come in the building, we check their body temperature, we do scans on those to make sure nobody’s running a fever and then we ask … ‘How are you feeling, are you well today, is there any illness in your immediate families?’ and temperature is the big thing — as long as we stay below that 100 degrees threshold,” Lt. Jeff Haile said.

Workers are then permitted in the door of the fire stations to begin their shifts.

When responding to emergency calls, workers are bringing along their typical gear, including StatPaqs, which contain personal protective equipment such as gowns, eye protection, masks, gloves, etc.

If a caller requesting emergency services is screened positive following the questions asked by central dispatch, fire services will work with the responding ambulance service and additional preventative measures will be taken, he said.

“It’s definitely changed the way we do business, that’s for sure,” Haile said.

Like others on the front lines, they are aware that resources may become limited over time.

“We don’t want to waste anything, any of our resources, even something as simple as an N95 mask, so we do reuse those as much as we can,” Haile said. “When we open a pack up, we make sure everything gets utilized before it gets discarded. If it’s 100% sure that nothing’s been exposed or hasn’t been compromised at all, we can package and reuse, especially those masks seem to be the big thing we’re worried about (with) shortages.”

They try to only wear the PPE if a caller is screened positive prior to their arrival, he said, though they aren’t presently worried about supply shortages.

“Right now we’re in good shape, but we’re just kind of at the starting point with this thing from the information that we’ve gotten, so we always want to stay ahead, but we’re in good shape right now as far as supplies,” Haile said. “There’s a reason for that, too. We were very proactive in this, our department was, and we started about a month and half (ago) ordering this stuff and acquiring this stuff.”

The fire stations are also following the standard guidelines, such as practicing social distancing, extra hand sanitation stations throughout both buildings, as well as washing uniforms more frequently and sanitizing the cabs of the fire trucks.

Haile encouraged community members to adhere to social distancing guidelines and stay home, but he also stressed the importance of reporting your symptoms and situation honestly to first responders during such times.

“It’s all communicating, whether it’s a personal lifeline, it’s providing the proper information that they can to whoever they’re calling out to as a dispatching center and letting them know what their symptoms are and being honest with them as far as what they are symptomatic to,” he said. “… Sometimes the scariest part of this whole thing is being unaware. If we know what we’re walking into, we can handle that and treat it accordingly. It’s just walking into the unknown is pretty unnerving for everybody. Give honest and good information to whatever dispatch center they’re reaching out to for help.”

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