Recently, the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD) hosted its very first COVID-19 question and answer session on Facebook and Instagram Live to address the impact of the wide-spread pandemic on the Department and Los Angeles County residents.
During the “Chief’s Chat,” Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby, along with Public Information Officer and Battalion Chief Roland Sprewell (moderator) provided key information about the proactive steps being taken to ensure the safety of residents and its first responders.
Chief Osby started the chat by reemphasizing the importance of keeping an open line of communication with residents and them for participating in the “Safer-at-Home” public health order. As news on the virus continues to develop rapidly, Chief Osby says the Fire Department is working directly with the Los Angeles County Public Health Director, along with the CDC and various community, state, national and federal officials to ensure that real-time action is being taken to employ public safety.
Firstly, the chief says LACoFD is already introducing a new “COVID-19 Response and Training Criteria” for first responders, where training includes active response tips and the use of enhanced personal protective equipment (PPE) to mitigate exposure. In addition, Chief Osby says that 911 dispatchers are also being trained to “ask additional questions” to provide key information to first responders traveling in route to prospective COVID-19 patients.
Osby explained that if first responders or medical staff are exposed to the virus, those members will receive priority testing and will subsequently be assigned to a health programs coordinator for optimal recovery and eventual return to work to assist those in need. Departments include daily screenings and other proactive measures. The Chief says LACoFD has been taking the vitals, temperatures and performing testing on public safety responders upon their arrival to work and throughout the day, with follow-ups to ensure sustainability.
“We, just like you, practice the same things at our fire stations and our facilities. We practice social distancing, we clean our equipment after each call, we clean our services throughout the day to ensure that our fighter fighters and our staff are safe, and that also applies to you,” Chief Osby stated.
During that chat, he also formally announced the launch of a new program that will allow first responders in L.A. County to virtually correspond with healthcare providers and receive real-time advice on how a patient with mild symptoms of COVID-19 can treat at home. Referred to as the Telemedicine Program, the video-conferencing tool is being used to minimize exposure and alleviate the volume of responses to those with mild symptoms while providing at-home solutions for care and recovery.
“It is vitally important that we keep our precious hospital beds available for the most critically impacted people that are exhibiting signs and symptoms of COVID-19,” Chief Osby said.
The Fire Department is also working on an initiative for its citizens and first responders alike to provide up-to-date information of what to do and where to get tested for the virus.
In response to a public question about how COVID-19 has affected LACoFD’s hiring process, Chief Osby indicated that while the County of Los Angeles has implemented a “hard hiring freeze, public safety entities are exempt,” he said. He went on to say that there are vacancies that need to be filled by new fire fighters, and that social distancing, along with a condensed training academy will be at the forefront of curriculum changes.
The public also posed a question about the safety of first responders with pre-existing health conditions. Chief Osby stated that for injured workers or workers with underlying medical conditions, they are first evaluated and/or treated by their medical physician. If released to return-to-work at full-capacity, they are monitored to ensure they can work in an arduous assignment. If the responder is released to return on a limited basis, Osby indicated that limited duty assignments are being made available so they can still assist the public with “life safety services.”
The final question addressed included a patient’s ability to designate which hospital they are transported to avoid potential out-of-pocket costs for being taken to a medical facility not within their medical network.
The chief stated that the Fire Department’s protocol is to follow the criteria established by the Los Angeles Emergency Medical Services Agency, which does allow requests for patient destinations under limited circumstances. Factors to consider in this instance include patient volume, room availability, and the severity of any given medical condition. If severe, the protocol is to take the patient to the nearest facility.
The chief emphasized that “when you dial 911, it has to be a critical emergency,” adding that bills incurred in severe cases are generally absorbed by the patient’s primary treating physician.
Overall, Chief Osby put the pandemic in perspective for citizens and first responders alike. “We must understand that we’re in dire times right now,” he said. “As tough as we are, our firefighters, our lifeguards, our paramedics, we’re human,” Osby concluded.