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Fire Departments/EMS in Maine face big obstacles amid COVID-19

EMS and fire officials in Maine are preparing for patients with COVID-19 while facing both a shortage of equipment and a shortage of personnel.

MAINE, USA — Emergency medical services across the country are struggling with new problems as they try to navigate and prepare for patients with Covid-19. 

EMS leaders in Maine are doing everything they can to meet the challenges they're now facing, knowing time is not on their side

During a pandemic, it is EMS, emergency medical technicians (EMT) and paramedics who are the first line of defense against the spread of any infectious disease.

Not only are they the first to provide medical care during an emergency, they're the ones identifying who may be carrying the disease and reporting that information to the hospital in hopes of helping to prevent the spread of it.

But right now EMS is facing big obstacles and small window of opportunity to overcome them.

"This is something we've never dealt with before and we're dealing with it nationwide," Roger Hooper, Chief Fire Administrator for York County, said.

Hooper says they're trying to make preparations as they go along but it's been challenging.

Right now their biggest problem is a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, gowns and eye protection. They have orders out for equipment and the Maine CDC is supporting that effort. 

The equipment that has trickled in is being sent right out to the first responders as quickly as possible. 

"We just hope we get things in place in time before things get a little dicier," Hooper said.

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Covid-19 has also forced the EMS system to change protocols. 911 dispatchers are now asking callers Covid-19 related questions --- about symptoms and travel --- to better determine what first responders are walking into.  If a patient does shows signs of Covid-19, Kennebunk Fire Rescue Division Chief John Brady says they will limit their exposure by sending in just one provider and having another provider at the ready.

"It isn't Ebola level, but we are trying to protect our patients and our providers," Brady said.

Brady says many of first responders in Maine work at other departments as well. 

"We are doing well right now but there could be a point in time when our levels of service could be reduced just based on people getting sick," Brady said.

That could be devastating for an industry already suffering form a staffing shortage.

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"One provider going out can actually have an impact on several communities," Hooper said.

Hooper stressed first responders are resilient and fire departments have fantastic mutual aid agreements in place, but the shortage of firefighters, EMT's and paramedics in Maine needs to be discussed.

"When this is over we need to have a long serious conversation about how we're going to fix this," Hooper said.

In the meantime Brady says they're trying to limit their exposure and stay healthy.

"Every day we screen each other, 2 times a day in house and go and do the best we can with what we have," Brady said.

Maine CDC Director, Dr. Nirah Shah, announced in his briefing Thursday that York County has 27 cases of Covid-19 and that community transmission has now been identified there.

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