Life for nearly all of us has changed quite a bit in the past 2 months. And that’s certainly true at the Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad. While many business and services are reduced or closed, the Squad volunteers are still answering calls for help; 156 of them in March.
The COVID-19 crisis has changed the way we answer calls and some of the equipment we use, but no call goes unanswered. While a few members have stepped back from active duty to protect family members with health issues, several of our college members have returned home and helped to fill our ranks.
Like most first responder and healthcare organizations, obtaining the personnel protective equipment or “PPE” has become a challenge. “After seeing how quickly we were using our supply of disposable gowns, we obtained heavier duty reusable protective suits and issued one to each active member”, said Squad Chief Kari Phair. Volunteers assembled a decontamination booth in the ambulance bay for cleaning after a call. We have also been fortunate to receive several donations from local businesses and residents that included N95 respirators, surgical masks and face shields. 2 area high schools are among those using 3D printers to manufacture face shield bodies to which a clear file is attached. When obtaining the disinfection products used in the ambulances became difficult, and the Squad obtained a UV sanitization device; the same technology used by many hospitals including Overlook. According to Squad President Bob Flanagan, “The safety of our members and patients remains our #1 priority.”
A variety of local restaurants and good neighbors have also been sending food to the Squad. Since the duration for a typical medical call is often much longer these days resulting in missed meals that’s been helpful. “Our volunteers truly appreciate the show of support from the community”, commented Flanagan.
While the number of calls has risen only slightly, the locations have changed. With people staying home more, the Squad is seeing fewer car accidents and emergencies at places of business, while calls to a patient’s home have increased substantially.
On April 7, the Summit First Aid Squad led an effort to thank their local heroes: health care providers at Overlook Medical Center. 36 different agencies joined the Summit Squad in an appreciation parade past Overlook. Summit Squad members participated in a similar effort the following week for St Barnabas Medical Center.
Crew Chief John Staunton, who also serves as Summit’s Board of Health President believes we may have passed the peak in COVID cases. “We saw a good sign this afternoon when we had 3 ambulances respond to simultaneous calls and none were COVID related”.