POWHATAN – Powhatan County’s first responders are taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of themselves and residents as they answer calls for help in the coming weeks and months.
While their jobs by definition involve having a presence in the community and interacting with people in difficult situations, local first responders can still take steps to limit contact with the public as part of the larger attempts to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Sheriff Brad Nunnally and fire and rescue chief Phil Warner shared the steps their agencies are taking to accomplish that goal. Both said they are following the contact guidelines provided by the Virginia Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and are finding it effective, and the sheriff’s office is also in constant contact with the Department of Homeland Security.
Deputies are continuing to patrol, detect, investigate, and suppress crime in the community as usual, Nunnally said. People will see just as many deputies on the roads patrolling day and night as before. But his office is trying to limit contact with people as much as possible so that it doesn’t have to self-quarantine any deputies.
“We are trying to handle non-emergency calls over the phone. We would prefer to have that to limit the public’s exposure to us and our exposure to the public,” he said. “We are still out patrolling. We are still out looking out for everybody’s best interests. We are making sure our businesses, some of which are closing down right now, are staying secure. We don’t want to see any upticks in break-ins.”
If deputies need to respond to a residence, the residents are being asked to meet them outside if possible to minimize any cross contamination caused by them interacting with numerous people daily.
Nunnally urged patience and kindness in a time of great stress, whether people are dealing with pharmacy staff, grocery store clerks, or other service industry employees who are already under pressure.
He also praised local restaurants for going into voluntary compliance with restricting not having more than 10 people in their facilities and encouraged residents to support them by getting take-out orders.
“I am still eating out and I am still bringing home food from restaurants in the county, so I would encourage people to support them,” he said.
Fire and rescue
Powhatan Fire and Rescue has reduced its response to non-life threatening medical emergencies to just a medic unit, Warner said. The department has three different levels of medical response.
Priority 1 calls involve life-threatening emergencies, and first responders will still be dispatched in these cases, he said. In Priority 2 and 3 calls, only an ambulance will be sent to minimize potential exposure. The 911 communications officers are also asking if anyone in the house is having difficulty breathing, fever, or a cough and will pass the information on to responders so they are prepared pre-arrival.
Among career staff, there aren’t any employees in the older age range that the CDC is recommending self-isolate because of higher risk, Warner said. However, there are volunteers who fit that description. He is making the recommendation to the volunteer companies that they limit their exposure and cancel their meetings for a few weeks or conduct them via conference call, but he is not mandating it. He also hasn’t set a limit on how many come to the stations.
“What we have done at the fire stations is limited public access. We are recommending that children and spouses stay away from the fire stations for the next couple of weeks,” he said.
When the county cleaned all of its buildings, that included the two county-owned structures. The Powhatan Rescue Squad and Companies 3, 4, and 5 have followed suit with similar cleaning efforts.
“We have six transport units within the county. The schools offered to spray a disinfectant in the back of each of our units that they use on the school buses to help keep germs down from 10 to 14 days. We have done all six of our transport units with that (decontamination) process, and every 10 to 14 days we are going to redo that to help protect our providers and our patients,” he said.
He added that companies still have to follow normal decontamination procedures after a call for service as an extra layer of protection.
As of last week, Warner said the call levels have been down in Powhatan, and he is hearing the same from neighboring localities.
“In all honesty, it is eerily quiet. I travel through the county every day and it is just getting more and more quiet,” he said. “In my personal opinion, I think everybody is taking these measures seriously and working from home with their kids and doing the right thing to help stem this outbreak.”
All employees and volunteers are being told that if they are sick or have a fever, they should not work, volunteer, or attend any training sessions.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.