Rescue Squad Continues to Respond During Pandemic
By JENNIFER GLACKIN
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader
WESTFIELD — The Westfield Volunteer Rescue Squad (WVRS) has served the Town of Westfield and its residents since 1951 and continues to be an entirely volunteer-run organization. They provide their service for free and are completely supported through donations. David Sloan, president of the WVRS, spoke with The Westfield Leader last week about the squad’s experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In mid-March, when the coronavirus began to gain speed, Mr. Sloan and the squad’s EMS Chief, Sergio Guzman, reached out to all Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), dispatchers, drivers, probationary crew, and other squad members and asked if each was comfortable with continuing to serve during the pandemic. “With all of these people being volunteers, we didn’t want them to feel unsafe or uncomfortable,” Mr. Sloan said.
A majority of the dispatchers, who are older and in a more vulnerable population, and a small number of riding EMTs decided to stay home and protect themselves from possible exposure, said Mr. Sloan. Other volunteer squad members stepped up and helped fill the gaps in the schedule. One particular volunteer dispatcher, Chris Beck, who Mr. Sloan referred to as “a gem in this scenario,” has covered dispatch shifts almost every day since mid-March. Mr. Sloan said the squad members who helped out by volunteering extra time were able to help the squad fill almost every shift.
The squad did take many extra precautions to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission. One way was added personal protective equipment (PPE). Squad members wear Tyvek suits and face shields, in addition to N-95 masks and gloves, when dispatched to a COVID potential or COVID positive individual.
In an effort to better utilize PPE resources, WVRS shared PPE with the Westfield Police Department. For example, the two units traded small and extra-large gloves to ensure all police officers and squad members had appropriately sized equipment, Mr. Sloan said.
Mr. Sloan also said the squad has taken “significant measures” to clean all the equipment. After every call the squad sanitizes the ambulance and instruments with bleach wipes and utilizes an ultraviolet (UV) light to further decontaminate the ambulances. If warranted, the UV light can also be used to sanitize the interior of the WVRS building.
Another precaution was a reduction in members riding on the ambulances. Most teams are run by three members: a driver, an EMT, and a probationary member who is studying to become an EMT. Upon the recommendation from the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, the WVRS reduced the number from three members to two. Probationary members helped at the squad house during their shifts.
The three highest calls the WVRS typically responds to are falls, followed by respiratory distress (difficulty breathing), and then “general not feeling well” situations. While the amount of respiratory distress calls increased approximately 50 percent compared to monthly averages, the total number of calls were almost “spot on” to last year’s March and April statistics, said Mr. Sloan. There have also been less motor-vehicle accident calls since there are less people on the roads.
While they have had some suspected COVID-19 calls to individual homes, most of the COVID related calls were at the local nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in the area.
During the height of the pandemic, Mr. Sloan said the wait to get into local hospital emergency rooms was typically an hour, even for EMS patients. Once a patient is assessed by the team, they can choose to go to the hospital or stay home. Mr. Sloan said due to the long waits at emergency rooms and the possible risk of exposure, more than an average number of the patients chose to “wait and see” at home rather than be taken to the hospital.
The WVRS lost their tenant dispatcher to complications from COVID-19, but she had not volunteered in the last few months due to other health issues and had recently spent time in a local rehabilitation facility.
While this time has been difficult, “the businesses and the residents have all shown tremendous support for us,” said Mr. Sloan. Individual supporters have dropped off food donations and gift cards to the squad, while restaurants in town have donated meals directly to the squad or comp their order when a member goes to pick it up curbside. 16 Prospect, Outta Hand Pizza, and Five Guys have been huge supporters of the squad before and during the pandemic, said Mr. Sloan. “We’re not without good food,” laughed Mr. Sloan.
All of the gratitude and support “helps us stay motivated to continue this fight,” he said.