New Hampshire first responders are running into people lying about their flu-like symptoms for fear they won’t receive treatment, though police and fire departments have adopted new protocols to reduce their exposure to COVID-19.
Emergency personnel want the public to know that despite what they might have heard, EMTs, paramedics and firefighters will treat them and police officers will protect them even if they are symptomatic. Hospitals will receive them, too.
Fire departments in Salem and Londonderry are seeing cases of residents lying during the screening process that helps first responders determine what kind of protective gear they need to wear while responding.
“It’s getting increasingly difficult to screen or prescreen the calls,” said Salem Assistant Chief Jeff Emanuelson.
He said the department has two of five ambulances specially equipped with firefighters, EMTs and paramedics who have personal protective equipment at their disposal. Now, even if a caller doesn’t report symptoms, the fire department is sending one of these just in case.
“When in doubt, we’re sending one of those two ambulances,” Emanuelson said.
If they aren’t symptomatic, another regular ambulance will transport the patient.
The issue is coming up in Londonderry, too, according to police Capt. Patrick Cheetham.
“The fire department will always treat them,” Cheetham said. “Honesty with emergency personnel is essential. No one will be turned away.”
He said it’s important that residents requesting emergency treatment report their symptoms honestly so that responding personnel can take the necessary precautions and continue treating other residents.
If first responders are found to be exposed to a suspected case of COVID-19, they likely will have to be quarantined temporarily, as will anyone they came into contact with afterward.
Departments are being careful with their use of protective equipment so they don’t run out.
“Certainly I think the highlight across the state is there’s been some limited protective clothing,” said Hudson Fire Chief Robert Buxton.
“We’re holding our own,” Emanuelson said of the Salem Fire Department’s supply. “We’re better than we were yesterday.”
Emanuelson said the state released some supplies Friday that helped out.
The Salem Police Department could use more protective equipment, according to Administrative Chief Brian Pattullo, who is working with the Salem emergency operations coordinator, Fire Chief Larry Best, to get more.
“We’re limited on our supply, so we’re asking everyone to evaluate the circumstances when they don that equipment,” Pattullo said. “We’re monitoring the stockpile and we are short on it.”
He said each cruiser is equipped with gloves, masks, eyewear and Tyvek suits.
In the meantime, Pattullo said, his department has adapted well to new protocols designed to limit exposure to people and each other.
As officers enter the station, they are screened with questions about their health and the health of other household members. Anyone with symptoms will be sent home, but that hasn’t happened yet, Pattullo said.
He said officers are disinfecting their cruisers and gear at the beginning of every shift, and the station is being regularly disinfected.
Cheetham said Londonderry officers are performing similar precautions with their cruisers and gear, and that town’s emergency personnel are “here and ready” to respond to any emergency.
In Salem, officers are doing their best to keep their distance even from one another.
“We’re practicing social distancing, which is even in roll call,” Pattullo said.
Like a lot of other police departments, including Londonderry, Hudson and Pelham, Salem has sought to restrict face-to-face interactions at the station, instead asking the public to call in to report crimes or request reports.
In cases where people still require a police officer to come take a report in person at their home, police are requesting they meet outdoors in the open air.
But Pattullo said they understand sometimes contact is unavoidable.
“Obviously there’s going to be contact. When we make an arrest there’s going to be contact with people,” Pattullo said.
So far one Salem police employee, a civilian, has been self-quarantined after an international trip. She is not symptomatic and is expected to end the quarantine after the 14-day waiting period is up.
Misinformation continues to be a challenge. Pattullo said he has heard a false rumor in town that cross-border travel to Massachusetts isn’t allowed. He said interstate travel is not prohibited at this time, and anyone who works in one state and lives in another can continue to commute as usual.
He said the closure of the mall and several retail stores in town has had one silver lining: a drop in shoplifting calls.
Departments are learning as they go, adopting new procedures as they’re developed, officials said.
Cheetham said the department is keeping track of assigned work stations to limit and track potential exposures. The department recently increased the hours for its janitor to keep up with the demand for constant disinfecting of areas around the building.
“An unintended consequence is the interior of the building has never been so clean since it was built in 2004,” he said.