CPSE hosts a weekly online forum among agencies in the CFAI accreditation process and officers that hold a CPC designation, bringing together the most progressive fire and emergency service departments and officers in the world. During CPSE Exchange, attendees learn from each other.
The event is a facilitated attendee-driven info sharing session, and this is a summary of the forum held on May 27, 2020.
How are you addressing employee mental health?
Several agencies participating in the session offer programs that engage with employees and their behavioral health needs. As an example, Fayetteville (NC) Fire Department reported that it started an internal process with the training of select employees to become peer counselors and that has had positive feedback from the department. In future years, they hope to expand the number of counselors.
The Murrieta (CA) Fire Department has developed a multi-tier counseling program that has peer counselors, varied faith-based offerings the members can chose to use, and a third-party external firm. The agency reported the firm has a focus on the needs of public safety employees and an understanding of the impact that some incidents can have on responders that, they feel, has created a more robust support system.
The program offered by the Washington Township (OH) Fire Department also has peer counselors but, like Murrieta, employees can reach out to faith-based services or a third-party professional service. The program currently focuses on providing the members as much current information about the novel coronavirus as they need, but the program also works to provide the information in “bite size” segments that are concise and focused on the needs of the employee.
None reported making any significant changes in their programs in response to the pandemic.
What measures has your agency implemented to minimize exposures?
The agencies reported a variety of actions that were taken to protect their employees. Some created, or partnered, with county agencies to operate units that were able to handle primarily novel coronavirus patients.
Patient Care / Medic Units
The Everett (WA) Fire Department started with the dedicated unit concept, but it became overwhelmed by the volume of transport requests. They have since moved to an approach that treats all patients as potential coronavirus exposures. One crew member, with appropriate PPE enters the structure and contacts the patient to triage and/or start treatment. Other agencies such as Murrieta, reported their crews ask the patient, if they are capable, to walk outside and get on to the waiting stretcher for transport to the hospital.
Everett has also worked with their county to purchase foggers which are used to decontaminate the transport units prior to leaving the hospital. Additional units have been placed around the county to be used for a weekly cleaning on non-transport units.
Several reported they had closed their stations to the public for tours, public education offerings, or general information inquiries. Some agencies reported they are no longer accepting donations of home-cooked meals or desserts from the public. Some reported the feedback from the community about the decision was not positive. Fairmount, CO Fire Protection District mentioned they do allow access for individuals with appointments with their Risk Reduction Bureau but screen each person at the entrance with a temperature check. Additionally, they have instituted a birthday drive-by that has been very popular with the community.
The Everett (WA) Fire Department reported that it has moved its public education offerings to an online platform. Focused toward pre-K through third grade, it has been successful.
Personnel / PPE
Several participants reported they follow guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and their state and local public health agency to determine the type and amount of PPE to have on-hand and use during daily operations. Firefighters are required to wear a face mask when outside and around the public. Some agencies require their firefighters to wear the masks while in the station as well. Many agencies expressed some, but minimal, resistance from department employees due to the requirement of wearing face masks. One agency reported the pushback had been in “the other direction” where in some members insisted the level of PPE should be increased to that equal of primary care staff in hospitals.
N95 Mask Decontamination
The Washington Township (OH) Fire Department shared that they are using the Battelle Critical Care Decontamination system, as their proximity to the university gives them access to the system.
Note: The Battelle Critical Care Decontamination system is for N95 respirators (healthcare and industrial) that are not cellulose based and must be NIOSH certified. The process is provided at no cost to health care personnel (HCP) via a contract from the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) on behalf of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide N95 decontamination at no charge. Follow this link to learn more: https://www.battelle.org/inb/battelle-ccds-for-covid19-satellite-locations
Are any agencies screening employees prior to the start of a shift?
The approach taken by Fairmont, Fayetteville, and Washington Township were similar with slight variations.
One process included an employee self-screening assessment which includes a temperature check and answering seven screening questions. Employees with a temperature greater than 100.4 degrees, or that answer “yes” to any of the screening questions are instructed to stay home. The employee, once at home, is asked to self-monitor and can return to work once the temperature falls below 100.4 degrees. Similarly, employees going off shift are asked to take and record their temperature before leaving the station.
The Yocha Dehe (CA) Fire Department reported that they have offered serological (antibody) testing to their employees on a voluntary basis. The agency also reported they are looking at whether the use of surveillance technology to measure individual body temperature is warranted.
Are departments preparing for an intense “second wave” in the fall/winter?
The short answer is “no,” not yet. The general discussion revolved around the idea of maintaining the current level of preparedness by continuing to procure PPE supplies, maintain employee awareness of procedures, ensure those procedures remain current by closely following CDC and local health agency guidance, and potentially identifying data-based trigger points that would modify the departments approach to the virus in the event of a second wave.