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Emergency services taking added steps to limit coronavirus spread, risk to first responders

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MILWAUKEE -- While many employers are urging their staff to work from home, that just isn't a possibility for a handful of people -- including first responders.

That's why police and fire departments across the area are taking extra steps to protect themselves from the coronavirus pandemic. First responders say now is not the time to panic, but it is time to prepare.

Doing just that, dispatchers are now screening calls to learn whether a patient may have symptoms of the coronavirus before crews even arrive on the scene. This is now the first line to protecting the men and women who are protecting the public from the coronavirus.

Dr. Ben Weston

"They may tell the patient to isolate themselves until the EMS provider arrives. They may tell the patient if they have it to put on a mask," said Dr. Ben Weston with the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management. "Then they'll also notify our providers, so this helps to protect our providers so they're not walking into an unknown scene and getting exposed."

Firefighters and paramedics across Milwaukee County are no bringing more protective equipment, like masks, in case a patient has symptoms of COVID-19. But it doesn't stop on the initial response to an incident. Departments are paying more attention to the cleaning of apparatus and equipment after the call.

Andy Mahn

"We are just being a little more diligent, obviously, with the recent outbreak, to make sure that everything is clean, and that our proper products are appropriate for what we're doing," Lt. Andy Mahn of the South Milwaukee Fire Department said.

The South Milwaukee Fire Department is disinfecting the iPods they use for patient information, wearing masks and even using a UV-light device to clean the inside of ambulances to prevent first responders from exposure to the virus and keep the emergency medical service system up and running.

"It protects the integrity of our system," said Weston. "If our providers are getting exposed, needing to get quarantined, you can imagine how quickly that could diminish the capabilities of our system -- not just to respond to COVID, but to respond to all the other calls that we get on a daily basis."

Weston said local fire departments are using CDC approved measures, like using masks for more than one call to save resources; they too are impacted by the shortage of masks and supplies.

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