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First responders feel strain of more COVID emergency calls

Published: Nov. 19, 2020 at 5:50 PM CST
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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - With a rise in COVID-19 cases the Grand Island Fire Department and other emergency services across Hall County are seeing a big uptick in emergency calls. It’s causing their staff to be stretched thin on top of some of their staff being infected with the virus.

Over the last 30 days the GIFD has responded to 165 COVID related calls. That is 120 more calls than they had during that period last year. On a single day in November they had 15 COVID calls which is the highest they have seen during the pandemic. As more units respond to those calls it has impacted how they can respond to other emergencies.

“We’re very busy normally and these extra calls have added to their workload,” Fire Chief Corey Schmidt said. “It’s really a juggling act and we’re stretched very, very thin.”

Since March, 16 firefighters have had the virus with a majority of them getting it in the last two months. With people out sick or in quarantine, others have had to fill in the gaps. Currently there are two firefighters out sick with COVID-19 and two in quarantine.

“With that many people being sick we’ve had to ask people to work double shifts and that’s led to more exposure to them and they’re tired,” Schmidt said.

He also said the staff is under a lot of stress with concerns of potentially bringing the virus home with them. Across Hall County, the volunteer fire departments are also feeling the strain.

“I know that it is a concern and it should be a concern for all of our volunteer EMS and fire because you have to have the staff to manage those calls and you have to have the healthy staff and the available staff,” Hall County Emergency Manager Jon Rosenlund said.

Rosenlund looked back on the flooding of 2019 and how so many people turned out to help during that emergency.

“They wanted to help and they did. Today we don’t need sandbagging, today we don’t need the individuals going out helping with evacuations,” Rosenlund said. “What we need is we need you to wash your hands very often, we want you to limit your exposure to others by maintaining social distance.”

He said this is a public health emergency and he hopes more people will help like they did in the time of the flooding. He said the only way that this virus truly is going to get better in our community is if the public steps up and takes their own precautions. Emergency responders ask if a person is concerned they may have COVID and symptoms are mild, to call their primary care doctor first.

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