BY MARIE PULEO | NEWS REPORTER
The coronavirus pandemic has changed daily life for many people, including the city’s first responders. The Lighthouse Point Fire Department and Police Department have had to adapt to the threat of the coronavirus by implementing new practices.
The Fire Department
The Fire Department has changed its procedures and is taking stricter personal protective precautions. When responding to calls involving someone who might be infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19), only one person makes patient contact to limit exposure for crew members.
“We are trying to get the people to come outside, or at least to the door, so we can speak to them first,” said Lighthouse Point Fire Chief Shawn Gilmartin.
There is increased communication with county dispatch to identify the homes of residents who are possibly infected with COVID-19 so that first responders can take the necessary precautions for future calls at those addresses.
There are increased decontamination procedures for vehicles, equipment and personnel in case they have been exposed to a patient infected with COVID-19.
“We’re decontaminating the rescue truck after each call,” said Gilmartin.
In order to prevent cross-contamination in the rescue truck, the driver’s cab has been sealed off from the patient’s compartment.
No one except crew members are allowed to ride in the rescue truck, whereas before a family member could accompany the patient. The only exception is for the parent of a small child, but they have to wear a mask and gloves, said Gilmartin.
If it appears that the crew members have responded to a positive COVID-19 case, they have to come back to the fire station and take showers.
The fire station usually keeps its doors open, but now the building is closed to anyone but fire department personnel. There is hand sanitizer at each door, which everyone must use before they come in.
The firefighters have to wear surgical masks around the fire station unless they’re eating, taking a shower or sleeping, said Gilmartin.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure they stay safe, so residents can have confidence when calling us, if they need us,” said Gilmartin.
Once a week, Gilmartin has a teleconference with all the fire chiefs in Broward County, “to keep up with everything.”
“They’re coming out with new protocols all the time,” he said.
Gilmartin also has a teleconference with the Broward County Emergency Operations Center every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
He uses an app to “chat” with other fire chiefs, so they can keep each other posted on new information, new policies, and ask questions.
Gilmartin said what is most challenging is “keeping everybody mentally prepared to go out and do our jobs.”
“All our daily routines had to be changed, so there’s been a lot involved,” he said.
“We’re still running all our normal types of calls — in addition to the possible COVID-19 calls — from heart attacks to car accidents to cut fingers.”
The Police Department
“COVID-19 has forced us to take a different look at how we go about doing our business, at least for the time being,” said Lighthouse Point Police Chief Ross Licata. “We want to make sure our employees stay safe and are available if they’re needed when called upon.”
When responding to calls for service, the police officers avoid going into homes unless it’s necessary, and they ask people to come outside to speak to them.
“We’re very conscious and careful about not getting too close to people, and sometimes that may come off as being distant,” said Licata. “But we want our residents to know that we still care about them and their concerns, and we’re here to help and support them in any way that we can.”
“We’re just going to do it in a manner that is safe for them and for our employees and for everyone in Lighthouse Point because we want to keep our community safe.”
Licata said the police department has all the equipment necessary in the event it does get a call involving someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, so “we can properly outfit our people to minimize any risk of them being infected.”
The police department is adhering to social distancing in every aspect of what they do. If they have group meetings internally, it’s in a large room where everyone is adequately distanced.
Right now, the department is not doing face-to-face training, but is distributing directives and orders to officers through a records management training format, alerting them about things they need to be careful of.
Some directives come from Broward County Emergency Management, the Health Department, the CDC, the state of Florida, and some are created internally.
Licata and other police chiefs throughout Broward County have been holding regular conference calls to discuss relevant public safety matters relating to COVID-19 and other police-related issues.
The police station is keeping its front doors locked. However, there’s an intercom out front, and anyone who needs to conduct any police business can come to the station and communicate with the dispatcher, and an officer will meet them at the front of the building.
Voluntary fingerprinting, a service generally offered by the police department for those who need it to obtain a license or permit, has been suspended.
If one of the police cars transports someone suspected of having COVID-19, the fire department is asked to come over and disinfect the entire vehicle with a decontamination spray, said Licata.
Residents and businesses in the community have shown their support for the city’s first responders by dropping off care packages, meals, face coverings, face shields and hand sanitizer.
“We so graciously appreciate having a wonderful working relationship with the people in our community,” said Licata. “We work really hard to maintain the trust and appreciation of the people that we serve by providing outstanding services, and we get the benefits back in a big way.”
For more information regarding COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) website