HELENA — Helena Fire Department leaders say they are increasing their use of personal protective equipment, as they prepare for more cases of COVID-19 in the city.
HFD Chief Ken Wood said the department has always had an infection control policy, but they have added a new policy specific to the coronavirus.
“What that has done is just stepped up that protection, so that we’re putting on an N95 mask more often – often before we make entry into a house,” he said. “We also have the gowns that we’re putting on – being more proactive with that rather than waiting until you find out exactly what you have. People will see those changes out on the street.”
Wood said HFD currently has enough N95 masks for the medical calls they make – though that could change if there is a large outbreak in Helena. They have a more limited supply of medical gowns, which they use to protect their uniforms so they don’t need to be disinfected regularly. Wood said they are looking at possible alternatives.
“We’re pretty resourceful, and I’m confident we’ll get what we need somehow to keep people safe,” he said.
The department didn’t initially have any liquid hand sanitizer available. However, after a post on Facebook, Wood said people from around the state contacted them to help out.
“We actually had a lady from Missoula that had some contact in Missoula and offered to drive down hand sanitizer if we needed it,” he said. “It feels good to see that community involvement statewide as far as helping people out.”
HFD eventually got a supply of hand sanitizer from the Helena company Diamond Products. Wood said it is a big help.
“We’re wearing the rubber gloves and all that, but you can end up getting contaminated just removing your personal protective equipment,” he said. “Of course we follow the guidelines the CDC puts out on properly removing all of your PPE, but as we all know, you can touch something and not even be aware that you touched something that was infected.”
Wood said the department is also fully cleaning its fire stations, vehicles and equipment every day – sometimes several times a day if needed. They are also limiting the number of responders who go inside homes during some medical calls. Instead, some will stage outside in case it is determined more are needed.
Wood said HFD is always looking for additional PPE, though they usually are interested in bulk items. If you know of something that may be of use for them, you can contact them at their Facebook page. Any materials they don’t need will be passed on to local rural fire departments or other providers.