Since the beginning of last month, the Idaho Falls Fire Department has been working closely with local officials and fire chiefs across the country to develop new protocols and adjust existing protocols in response to COVID-19.
“All members of this department have taken on additional tasks and responsibilities in response to the pandemic. I cannot thank them enough,” states IFFD Fire Chief Duane Nelson. ”We may have changed some of our protocols, but one thing remains constant – our commitment to providing life-saving services to our community. That ethic runs deep in this profession. I’m convinced we will come out of this an even stronger department and an even stronger community.”
IFFD not only provides 24/7/365 fire protection for Bonneville County, but also Emergency Medical Services (EMS) for Bonneville County and portions of Jefferson and Bingham Counties. In 2019, IFFD responded to 14,282 calls (fire/EMS/all-hazard). Many department members also serve on regional specialty teams such as swift water rescue, hazmat, incident management, technical rescue and wildland firefighting.
“The operation of our department is instrumental to the safety of our community. One of our top priorities is keeping our first responders healthy so we can continue to help those who need us. Equally as important is taking precautions to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to our patients, at-risk populations and our families,” adds Nelson.
On March 16, Unified Command was activated to assist with the COVID-19 response efforts. Unified Command is an authority structure used to provide effective coordination and communication during incidents that involve multiple jurisdictions or agencies. In this case, Unified Command consists of leadership from Eastern Idaho Public Health, Bonneville County, City of Idaho Falls and City of Ammon, which is providing support resources to Eastern Idaho Public Health’s eight-county health district. Many members of the IFFD Command Staff serve within the Unified Command structure while continuing to provide direction to the fire department.
Typically when responding to incidents such as wildfires, earthquakes and hurricanes, first responders have the advantage of requesting additional resources from other agencies through Mutual Aid Agreements and Emergency Management Assistance Compacts. Unfortunately, additional resources are not widely available when responding to an unprecedented global pandemic. This is why it is imperative that first responders adjust protocols and why community members continue to be vigilant with preventative measures, including social distancing, hygiene and isolation measures.
Below are some examples of the temporary precautionary measures IFFD has taken in response to COVID-19:
- No employees are allowed to report to duty if they present with any COVID-19 symptoms as outlined by the CDC.
- All business travel, multi-personnel training, community events, station tours, ride-alongs and other nonessential external activities are suspended until further notice.
- Administration and fire prevention personnel are rotating regular shifts at station 1 headquarters, using social distancing and working remotely. Office phones are forwarded to cell phones when remote work is necessary.
- Fire inspections are limited to new construction and required inspections while practicing social distancing and wearing N-95 masks.
- Grocery shopping for on-shift personnel is limited to once per 48-hour shift, with only one individual entering the store. Efforts are made to utilize on-line and pick-up options available at grocery stores and restaurants. Masks are worn while shopping to protect personnel and the community.
- Personnel complete daily fire station and apparatus decontamination procedures.
- Prior to entering department living spaces, all personnel perform preventative measures, including hand washing and health screenings (questions and temperatures).
- Emergency dispatchers (911) are asking additional health-related questions when individuals call with an emergency to ensure that law enforcement and fire/EMS personnel have all the information they need before arriving on scene. Personnel are also calling the patient to get additional information prior to arrival.
- If COVID-19 is suspected when responding to a call, first responders are wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), per CDC guidelines.
- A single responder wearing PPE is triaging the patient and ensuring that the patient has a surgical mask in place. If additional personnel are needed to treat and transport the patient, they are wearing the same level of PPE as the initial responder.
- To help prevent the spread of the virus, family members or other riders are not allowed to ride in ambulances with the patient. In rare cases, the parent or guardian of a patient who is a minor may be allowed to ride in the ambulance, using preventative measures.
- Responders are following CDC EMS Transport Guidelines and are documenting all exposures.
Additional Information: The Idaho Falls Fire Department has provided fire protection services to the City of Idaho Falls since 1885. We are one of the largest full-time paid fire departments in the state of Idaho. There are 127 personnel operating across five fire stations. An ambulance crew is also located in Swan Valley. All firefighters and chiefs are cross-trained as EMTs or paramedics. Through contracts, we provide emergency medical services to all of Bonneville County and portions of Jefferson and Bingham Counties, serving a population of approximately 155,000 residents, occupying approximately 3,500 sq. miles. In 1991, the Idaho Falls Fire Department contracted with Bonneville County to provide fire protection services for all of Bonneville County, serving a population of approximately 117,000 residents, occupying approximately 1,901 sq. miles. We are committed to providing the highest level of professional life-saving services to the communities we serve.
Media Contact: Kerry Hammon, Public Information Officer, (208) 612-8122, [email protected].
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