First Aiders During Pandemic

This ambulance had its lights on driving near the ShopRite in Brick. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  BRICK – The Brick Police Department Emergency Medical Services EMTs approach each ambulance call as a possible COVID-19 call since they now wear protective gloves, N95 masks and goggles at all times.

  “Our staff is working harder and smarter in how they approach every call,” said Director of Brick Police EMS Robert Contreras.

  Safety begins even before any of the department’s 48 EMTs begin their shift. When they report for work, EMTs must fill out a questionnaire to see if they have any coronavirus symptoms, and have their temperature taken.

  Contreras said that during the peak of the virus, about 50 percent of the department’s calls were for suspected coronavirus, with people complaining about shortness of breath, fevers and coughs.

  “Some people were sicker than others, they were gasping for breath,” he said. “We definitely saw some severe cases, but the majority were mild.”

  Since the beginning of May, there has been a significant decrease in suspected coronavirus calls, and Contreras estimates that those calls are down from 50 percent to about 15 percent.

  He attributes the decrease of coronavirus calls to people practicing social distancing and taking other safety precautions. The age of the coronavirus patients is varied, he added.

  Asked if the EMTs are worried about contracting the virus, Contreras said, “It crosses everyone’s mind, but it’s no different than other things we may face.”

  Phone calls requesting an ambulance are prescreened by the community operator, and once the EMTs arrive at the location, they do a quick screening of the patient for the coronavirus by checking for a fever and other symptoms.

  If they suspect the patient might have the virus, they notify the hospital emergency room ahead of time. The EMTs are given a room assignment, and the patient is directly transferred to that room, Contreras said.

  Afterwards, the EMTs have a system in place where they decontaminate the ambulance and sanitize their equipment in about 15 minutes.

Brick Police EMS operate out of the Civic Plaza. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  “Things are more stressful right now because when we transport patients we have to tell family members they can’t go with us, and that’s disheartening,” he said.

  “Family members mostly understand, but some patients are afraid to go to the hospital because of COVID,” Contreras said. “Even non-COVID patients are afraid.”

  Most patients are appreciative and get a sense of security once they’re in the ambulance, he said.

  Brick has two EMS locations: one at 1810 Lanes Mill Road, and the other in the Civic Plaza on Chambers Bridge Road. The staff continues to wear masks and practice social distancing when they are between calls, he said.

  Brick EMS has never had a shortage of protective equipment, Contreras added.

  “The community has been very supportive,” he said. “They have been dropping off all kinds of supplies, food, and anything we ask for, like baby monitors.”

  Brick Police Chief James Riccio said that 10 of the EMTs are certified as paramedics, but the state had only allowed MONOC paramedics to operate in the area.

  “MONOC went out of business, so we have to be certified by the hospital,” Riccio said. “We’re working on getting a paramedic unit.”