Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland signed an emergency declaration for Palm Coast similar to one she signs during the last hurricane emergency. County Commission Chairman Dave Sullivan said he will sign a similar declaration Monday evening. The declarations give local governments broader latitude executing certain contracts while also giving them authority to tag certain expenses as emergency-related, making them subsequently reimbursable by the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
Concurrently, the Palm Coast Fire Department has opted to “limit” its response to medical calls to life-threatening emergencies only, in order to reduce the chance of exposure to the coronavirus and diminish the chance that its personnel might be infected or required to be pulled off the ranks for 14-day observation.
“After meeting with Flagler County Emergency Management and seeing some of the fire departments in the country that have been affected by Covid-19 positive diagnosis, I have determined the Palm Coast will limit all response to medical calls effective Monday, March 16,” Palm Coast Fire Chief Jerry Forte said in an email to local fire rescue and other first-responding officials Friday. “Any calls that are not considered “life threatening” will not have an engine response until the threat of the spread of Covid 19 has been reduced. Keeping as many fire suppression apparatus in service is paramount for the duration of this emergency.”
He added: “This action taken today is to not only reduce the possibility of spreading the virus from one employee to another, but to limit what interactions we have with senior citizens who are the most vulnerable in the community. Limiting crew interactions with other department members and the public will also be helpful in reducing contamination.” Specifically, while dispatching will continue, “we will not respond to medical calls unless asked by the transport crews if they need extra hands on medical calls that are considered ‘Life Threatening,'” Forte wrote. “Once on scene, the officer will determine how many engine company personnel will be needed at the patients side. I urge all personnel to limit access on any medical calls that you happen to come across.”
The change is a reflection of a rapidly changing landscape across the country and the world regarding what protocols to apply in response to the coronavirus–and specifically, what measures must be implemented to limit the spread of the infection. The Centers for Disease Control has issued guidance for Emergency Medical Services personnel, disseminated and amplified by agencies including the U.S. Fire Administration and the International Fire Chiefs Association, among others.
Dispatch’s approach “should never supersede the provision of pre-arrival instructions to the caller when immediate lifesaving interventions (e.g., CPR or the Heimlich maneuver) are indicated,” the CDC guidance states. But the CDC is recommending sharply different protocols for PUIs, meaning “people under investigation,” or people who report symptoms that may lead to such investigations.
Normally, when a medical call is dispatched from 911, a Palm Coast Fire Department fire truck and a Flagler County Fire Rescue ambulance head to the call, either together or from separate fire stations, depending on where each is located. The first to respond begins to administer aid, and if hospital transport is required, then the rescue carries it out. With the new protocol in place, Palm Coast Fire Department spokesman Patrick Juliano said, Palm Coast will still respond to critical calls, but when it comes to responding to patients with flu-like symptoms or less-critical symptoms, the response will be limited.
“I don’t want that to be misconstrued that we’re withholding care, that is absolutely not the case,” Juliano said. “We will respond but we’re trying to be ready for the next call.” Palm Coast firefighters will still respond, for example, to calls involving chest pain, difficulties breathing, diabetic issues, strokes and other life-threatening emergencies or assisting the invalid, Juliano said.
And if a call is dispatched out of one of the two city fire stations where a county ambulance is not co-located, then the city’s firefighter-paramedics will respond regardless, Forte said. “We’re also going to limit the amount of people that go into a call,” he said. “We’re trying to stay ahead of the action. For our department, I absolutely don’t want to put people in a position where they get quarantined, and we lose an engine company.”
The decision did not please Don Petito, Flagler County’s fire chief. “I received an email late Friday from Jerry Forte that they were not going to run medical calls starting Monday,” Petito said, referring to the Palm Coast fire chief. “I was not consulted.”
“That’s a major change, I would have thought we’d have a meeting about it but we hadn’t,” Petito said, describing the advantage of having both agencies respond in terms of timing: whichever unit is closest to a call gets there first and gets to work. “It’ll put a bigger strain on us because we’re going to have to make response time without their help. They want to make sure that their people don’t get sick so they’re available for fires, which is 1 percent of our calls.”
“Last time I checked I don’t have to consult Petito about the operations in Palm Coast,” Forte said this afternoon. “I’m doing what’s best for the citizens of Palm Coast. I gave him the information on Friday, if he had a concern he could have called me.”
First responders are not protecting themselves only for their own sake but for that of residents, Juliano said, since responders are in contact with large numbers of people anyway–and limiting their exposure to residents is a precautionary measure. “It’s not juts like we picked up and went home, that is absolutely not the case,” Juliano said.
The CDC’s guidance specifies that limiting exposure on certain medical calls is essential down to isolating the ambulance driver from the patient compartment and keeping pass-through doors and windows tightly shut.
Meanwhile, local governments continue to tailor the ever-evolving and unchartered course of the emergency to their daily operations.
“We have our meeting tomorrow so we’ll sign ours then,” County Commission Chairman Dave Sullivan said. The County Commission is meeting Monday at 5 p.m. as it normally does, at the Government Services Building. The commission is recommending that people watch on the web rather than show up in person. “I don’t think a piece of paper makes a whole lot of difference other than future pay-backs and things like that.” He said “I don’t think there’s a whole lot we’re not doing that we could do.” The county is not at the point where people have to be ordered to stay in their homes unless they’re sick, Sullivan said. “I want to do what’s right, but I think we’re doing everything that we can do.”
County government will still hold its bi-weekly commission meeting Monday evening, but County Manager Jerry Cameron said personnel will be in place to escort anyone out of the room who may display indications of flu-like symptoms, and future commission meetings may be held without an in-person audience, though measures would be taken to enable participation–and the meetings would still be kept transparent.
“This is kind of like surfing, you don’t want to be too far in front of the wave, and you certainly don’t want to be behind it,” Cameron said this afternoon. “We may well stop face to face meetings if we get any contamination of any degree.”
The county is ceasing congregate meals for the elderly, and will be distributing the meals to individuals instead.
“As the impact of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic continues to shape our daily lives, affecting how, where, and when we work, getting sick or anxious, or worrying if our families are at risk,” the mayor said in her declaration, “it’s easy to feel like your individual actions may not matter in the grand scheme of things. But every single one of us plays a part in our community’s health.”
The declaration stops well short of any additional measures not recommended by the state and local health departments. It does not call for more restrictive movement, as some cities in certain parts of the nation are beginning to call for, nor does it suggest any limitations on business activity. “Please shop responsibly and be respectful of your neighbors,” the mayor said in the declaration. “Most importantly, remember that none of us [is] alone.”
Jane Gentile-Youd says
Thanks Jerry Cameron for your consideration in allowing us to keep our 3 minutes safe even if we don’t go in person.
The additional homes requested by ICI in Plantation Bay ( Item 8b March 16) have me beyond livid… but I have COPD and am scheduled to have heart valve surgery on March 25. Do I get an ulcer because I can’t put in my two cents or do I take a big chance with my health to stand up for what I believe in. I hope Flagler County will open their phone lines tomorrow night so we the people can still participate. Keeping my fingers crossed
Worried Citizen says
The way this article reads, if I feel bad enough to have to contact 911, I will have to exagerate what is happening in order to get some help. As a person without medical knowledge, what I may see as an emergency, the fire dept may not, so I will err on the side of caution and make sure they come. After all, that is what they are there for. And may greatest gratitude to these men and women who put their live on the line for us every day!!!
John Smith says
Wow!! Not really sure what to say about Chief Forte’s response to COVID-19 within the City of Palm Coast. But, don’t we pay taxes that support (pay for) the city fire department? How can they arbitrarily decide not to respond without consulting or discussing this with the County? How is Forte’s plan doing what is best for the citizen’s of Palm Coast (delaying their response to care)? Who does he think is going to run the calls that he is refusing to go to? That is the underlying reason why Forte should have consulted with the County. One word describes Forte’s response…….COWARD. First responders train, practice and respond. This is what they do. When it gets tough, you don’t decide to not show up or run the other way. Don’t these people take an oath to save lives and protect property? What if very doctor, nurse and healthcare professional decided to do what Chief Forte is doing? I think Palm Coast has demonstrated that they are totally non-essential. Maybe the County should take over since they aren’t afraid.
Common sense palm coast says
Wrong. The firefighters are exposed to a lot more people than the rest of the citizens. This is to protect those citizens from The firefighters bringing possible COVID-19 into homes of people that are not really sick and call 911 anyway. This is a common sense approach to response and should probably be how the fire department responds at all times not just during a pandemic.
Only someone with no vision and failed leadership would think this doesn’t make sense.
What if an elderly person falls and breaks a hip and can’t get up or the spouse can’t get them up.
As the article notes, responding to the invalid is still part of the protocol.
jim g says
Now that is REALLY stupid. Too bad for auto accident victims I suppose. Have to wait to determine if their accident injuries are Life threatening or not. Wake up and do your job that you are paid to do.
As the article notes, anything that may be considered life threatening triggers an automatic response.
David Schaefer says
Good Move but I think this needed to be a full county agreement…..
Margaret Russell says
I firmly believe the Fire Rescue is showing good common sense. Rescue alone can handle most emergencies and will call for help when necessary. Keeping as many fire and rescue personell healthy is as important as helping those of us that are hurt or unwell.
Moral compass says
So you’re suggesting that only county firefighters should be potentially exposed as opposed to the city firefighters… county firefighters have families and loved ones and well
Since they don’t have to respond to all. Their pay should reflect them not working as much. When they held up their hand, they also took an oath to help people, now they are going back on that. Should the police stop going to “not as important crimes” so they can limit their exposure.
The current pay for Paramedic/Firefighter is $15 hr. Do you really want to pay them less if they are the link between your life and death? Think about that for a moment. Then think about how much you pay your Botox doctor.
Retired Fire/EMT says
As a retired Firefighter/EMT for Volusia County Fire/Rescue retired 5 years ago with 30 years of service I was making $23.50 per hour not counting all the available overtime. Depending on the years of service Firefighter/Paramedic pay should be more than $15.00 an hour.
Ever serve a 24 hour shift?….ever have to respond to life and death emergency?
IF THEY GET SICK THEY CANT RESPOND TO ANYONE….
Unfortunately too many people think a paper cut or a broken finger is an Emergency and almost would demand that a helicopter should respond to “their needs”.
An Emergency should always be a Life-threatening injury, otherwise drive to your doctor, Urgent care, or Hospital. No need for an ambulance so you can bypass the waiting room.
EMS, Fire Dept, and Police are not your free taxi service.
If you are having a Heart Attack, think of having to wait 45 minutes for the next available ambulance because they are all tied up with non-emergency calls.
Stop being selfish, take some responsibility and act like an adult.
David Schaefer says
Amazed, I think the pay for paramedics here in Flagler is disgusting . In other counties in Fla they make $10 more per hour.
Retired Firefighter/EMT says
I worked as a Firefighter/EMT for Volusia County Fire/Rescue for 30 years I retired 5 years ago I was making $23.50 per hour with unlimited overtime. Firefighter/Paramedic should be more than $15.00 an hour.
1769 East Moody Blvd. Bunnell, FL
Full Time – $15.00 Hourly
Category: Fire & EMS
Department: Fire Rescue
Caring for the community says
I am amazed or should I say shocked at the ignorance of some people of this county. As a medical person the abuse I have witnessed over the last 25 yrs. that our EMS/fire dept. staff have been subject to is just appalling, and now during a worldwide crisis people still act like these men and women who are available for you and your families 24/7 for your deadly hangnail, your boo boo that could heal with a bandaid or your cold symptoms that you have not even tried Motrin or Tylenol for should still be at your beck and call and provide the free travel to get you in to see a doctor in the ER and you all know the ER can’t turn a pt away so you all get the care you feel you need for your so called emergency. Many times these people are the people who tie up the county’s ambulances or their so called high class taxi service when someone is having a heart attack or in respiratory distress. What has happened to humanity, has everyone that is passing judgement right now towards these healthcare personnel who save many life’s out in the field still only thinking of themselves and no one else……What a sad and ungrateful way to live 😢
Angry Citizen says
Leave it to the Palm Coast Fire Dept to play God and determine if my life is worth saving based on my 911 call. What may be a true medical emergency if not explained properly by a person with no medical background can/may/will be dismissed and my life or the life of a loved one may be lost. This is criminal at best. Most of the calls within the city of PC are generally responded to by FCFR as PC would rather not go and deal with it so what’s new???