By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Two Atmore firefighters returned to work Sunday after a two-day coronavirus quarantine that resulted from a mutual-aid medical call at a home just across the Florida line.
The city firemen were among eight first responders dispatched April 7 to a Walnut Hill residence, where it was later determined that the patient died of a heart attack.
Atmore firefighters are often requested at rural scenes where such an emergency exists because local fire trucks carry defibrillators and most local firemen are certified in CPR and other cardiac-resuscitation measures. This time, though, the medical expertise was not the reason or the call.
“We were actually called down there to set up a landing zone for a Life Flight helicopter,” said AFD Chief Ron Peebles, whose department is also skilled in such exercises. “There were four volunteers from Walnut Hill (Fire Department) that were there, there were two EMTs that came from Pensacola with the ambulance, and our two guys.”
The two AFD firefighters were scheduled to be tested for COVID-19. The tests were cancelled, however, when a sample taken from the patient turned out negative for the virus.
“We had set the tests up for Friday (April 10),” Peebles said. “We found out late Thursday that the patient had tested clean (for coronavirus), so they didn’t have to be tested.”
The firemen, who were near the end of their two-day shift anyway, were ordered to quarantine themselves at home until they were cleared.
“They were at the end of their shift anyway and weren’t scheduled to come back to work until two days later (April 12),” the AFD chief said. “I did not let them come back to work until the folks in Escambia County (Fla.) got (the patient’s) test results back.”
The Walnut Hill VFD personnel and the EMS crew were reportedly also self-quarantined until the results of tests on the patient sample were announced.
According to a report broadcast by a Pensacola television station, some first responders in Florida have tested positive for COVID-19 and hundreds have been quarantined while awaiting test results. Published reports indicate that no Escambia County (Fla.) first responders have yet tested positive.
Standard procedure for most medical calls in the Sunshine State now call for emergency responders to “act as if everyone they interact with has been exposed to the virus,” a suggestion made by a University of Florida law professor and accepted now by most fire departments, law enforcement agencies and emergency medical crews.
Peebles said the incident, during which one local firefighter went inside the home of the patient while the other waited in the AFD vehicle in which they arrived, prompted him to give the two individuals involved a refresher course on personal safety during emergency responses.
“They know they are supposed to wear gloves and a mask for any extraction or any medical call, period,” he said. “I told them that (the one who went into the house) could have caught the virus, then given it to (the other one) when he got back in the truck.
“(The one in the truck) could have passed it on to his family, or the two of them could have come back and given it to the whole shift and the next shift coming on duty. Then half our firefighters would be out of work, and we’d have a mess on our hands.”