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The City Journals

UFA first responders take new precautions for house calls

May 11, 2020 11:17AM ● By Cassie Goff

Emergency responders will more commonly be dressed in full personal protective equipment in the time of COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of UFA)

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

The Unified Fire Authority (UFA) has been adapting to various changes in their daily operations per the global pandemic. Assistant Chief Riley Pilgrim reported on how the organization has been adapting those changes on April 7. 

Throughout the Salt Lake Valley, there has been a decrease in call volume for all emergency responders. For UFA in particular, “we’ve had a 37% drop in calls,” Pilgrim said, when comparing the January through April to previous years. 

“There are not as many people out and about. Most people are complying with the stay at home order,” reported Pilgrim. 

However, even though there has been a decrease of call volume, the potential of being exposed to coronavirus is exponentially increasing. “We have been doing a lot of internal tracking with calls that have potential of COVID,” Pilgrim said. 

The UFA crews had “gone on about 240 calls that had the potential of COVID interaction that potentially exposed 1,100 personnel,” Pilgrim said. 

From that potential exposure, “27 people have gone out with symptoms, with one testing positive.” Only one or two of those with symptoms were from Cottonwood Heights. 

The numbers of individuals showing symptoms are only expected to increase as “the peak is moving toward the last week of April, first week of May,” Pilgrim said. 

For any positive case within the UFA, “we’re going to treat it as if it happened in the workplace,” Pilgrim said. UFA will protect their administrative leave.

Since there are many UFA crewmembers responding to calls related to coronavirus, Cottonwood Heights Councilmember Scott Bracken asked Pilgrim what callers can expect if they call with symptoms.  

“Dispatch is going to ask a series of direct questions that include the symptoms of COVID,” Pilgrim said. Dispatch will record those answers and relay them to the crewmembers, through their mobile computers. The report will tell the crew that the person calling is exhibiting COVID-19-like symptoms. 

When arriving on scene, one crew member will be fully outfitted in personal protective equipment (PPE). That crew member will knock on the door and ask the caller to come out to them, so the other crew members don’t have to go inside the house. 

The fully protected crew member will do a basic assessment at the front door, recording the individual’s temperature and asking multiple follow-up questions. Based on the answers, the crew might send in more members to assist or one additional crew member to provide contact with the patient. 

In March, UFA started breaking out some of their previously stored PPE. “We had quite a few things on hand already,” Pilgrim said. “We had 20,000 masks on hand. In three weeks, we were down to about 10,000 masks.”

When responding to an accident or other call outside the home, the crewmembers won’t be wearing PPE, but will still be caring for the community.