A First Response to Covid-19

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Aniyah Clarke, Staff Reporter

Our nation’s First Responders have a unique and critical responsibility in providing Emergency Medical Services (EMS), to its citizens.  Daily, they are faced with situations that require quick responses to any number of emergent situations, that if left unattended, could have disastrous consequences.  Now, faced with a time that most people could have never imagined; First Responders are having to find ways to adapt to the growing needs, in wake of the global pandemic. COVID-19 was an unexpected virus that not only struck the United States but the world.  In the face of this growing pandemic, it became evident over time: that most, if not all of the U.S. was not equipped to deal with this new threat.  Being a First Responder, whether it is being an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), policemen, or firefighter can be challenging during this time. Because of the precautions that must be taken due to COVID-19, the jobs of first responders have become even more difficult.

Taking extra precautions became second nature to First Responders such as, washing their hands often, conducting temperature screens before work, wearing gowns while on the job, wearing face shields, and the most important procedure, wearing a mask at all times. Aaron Gilliam, a 38-year-old police officer, states, “Before COVID the job was more hands on and personable, and public interaction wasn’t as distant. The fear wasn’t the pandemic, the fear was being infected by body fluids.”  But now as times have changed, and we are faced with such an unexpected and extraordinary event in history, sanitization and appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is imperative and necessary during these times. Officer Gilliam further states, “Masks became a part of our everyday uniform; you remember it like you remember your weapon.”

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), different environments create unique challenges for EMS workers. One hurdle for EMTs working in an ambulance or other enclosed spaces, is maintaining a 6-foot distance restriction. This makes doing their job even harder because trying to maintain social distance while saving someone’s life is close to impossible. Matthew Taylor, a 30-year-old EMT, stated, “There isn’t much social distancing that you can do when it comes to saving someone’s life.” So, EMTs not only have to be vigilant but now they must be cautious, not just for themselves but for their families. The fear of taking this virus home to their friends and family is one of the biggest concerns that First Responders face. “It’s stressful knowing that you are surrounded by patients with COVID… so much that you can bring it home to your family,” Taylor further states.

First Responders are faced with difficult decisions that have worsened during the pandemic. The choice to be on the front lines leaves less time for self-care which is essential for adequate job performance.  In response to the hazardous working conditions, the Baltimore City Police Department formed a health and wellness division that provides onsite doctors and psychiatrists to workers free of charge.  While care for oneself and for those in need is of the upmost importance, finding ways to cope with the added stressors brought on by COVID-19 is imperative.  Officer Gilliam, reflecting fondly upon his interest in photography, states, “It is important to have a hobby outside of being a police officer. Hobbies provide an outlet, a space to disconnect from the chaos.”

First Responders have adapted to the new normal and continue to serve despite the risk.  As the pandemic continues to alter our very existence, First Responders are still present to provide care through this unprecedented global crisis.