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Emergency personnel seek donations for protective gear during COVID-19 outbreak

COURTESY PHOTO - Lake Oswego Fire Department employees wear protective gear on calls and are seeking donations.If you're walking in the neighborhood or peering through your window at the latest buzz happening down the street and see emergency personnel dressed in their new attire — masks, gowns and gloves — it doesn't mean they have or are dealing with someone with COVID-19.

They are protecting themselves and others.

"Our primary concern right now is to make sure that our workforce is safe and that they're healthy," said David Morris, Lake Oswego Fire Department's assistant fire chief.

After the first case of COVID-19 was found in a Lake Oswego School District employee Feb. 28, Morris said the fire department changed how they approach patients.

"The way we respond and how we look is going to be different," Morris said.

Both the fire department and the Lake Oswego Police Department are on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic. The large amount of public interaction puts these public service agencies at high-risk. But still, emergency personnel continue to provide services, and both departments have implemented safety protocols to ensure their safety and the public's safety.

After Gov. Kate Brown issued a stay-at-home order March 23, ordering non-essential businesses to close and the closure of playgrounds, state parks and outdoor sports courts, among several other facilities, she announced it would be a Class C Misdemeanor, which is punishable by 30 days in jail and a $1,250 fine, for those who violate the order.

"At this point, however, we plan to be reasonable — to educate people about the order, and to encourage compliance," said LOPD Sgt. Tom Hamann. "We will assess each situation as we are faced with it and will take the appropriate action for the situation, up to and including citation for the criminal offense, if that is appropriate in that particular situation."

Though the police academy is shut down for now, the LOPD has not had to make any alterations or layoffs with personnel due to coronavirus.

Hamann said the LOPD is still serving the community and responding to calls like they normally do.

"We're handling everything," he said.

But the department has implemented plans to reduce the risk to the public and LOPD employees.

The dispatch center is handling emergency calls and other circumstances where people might be concerned about coronavirus symptoms. With some calls, there is only phone contact, where maybe officers would have come to the house prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The department has also limited shift briefings and time they're in a room together.

"We are limiting our own exposure to each other by limiting our time together," Hamann said, adding that they are social distancing while in the office and "being sure to disinfect our cars and our work areas."

"The City as a whole has communication to all City employees about the fact that if you're ill, stay home," Hamann said. "We want people to stay home if they are feeling ill and not potentially expose somebody else."

The LOPD does have protective gear and will wear it on a call if the person is known to have been exposed to the disease.

"We are not currently wearing that equipment on every call. Ultimately, if the officer has any concern about exposure, they will wear the protective gear," Hamann said. "It's important to know that regardless of what's going on, we are still here and we are still responding to calls for service."

The fire department plans to keep taking calls as well. What might alter that is if an employee catches the virus.

Morris said if that's the case, there are several strategies in place — they will quarantine people until it's known if the person has tested positive for COVID-19. Depending on the situation,the employee may be sent home or to a hotel. If there is no other option, the fire department may set up an area in a city building to quarantine their employees, Morris said.

"The reality of it is, we got 12 guys on duty a day," said Morris, adding that the department would have a hard time providing service if it loses people who may have been exposed to the illness. So, the department is trying to get ahead of the illness and prevent employees from getting sick in the first place.

The department has implemented new protocols for cleaning and disinfecting gear and the station. They are "trying to eliminate the chance of bringing contaminates to the station," Morris said.

Firefighters are wiping down everything with sanitizing solution several times a day and are wearing protective gear on calls.

Employees will be taking their temperature several times a day and visitors are no longer allowed at the stations. Non-essential employees are working from home and firefighters aren't training and working out together.

"When they're eating dinner, they try to spread out a bit," said Morris, adding that when they're on the scene of an emergency, groups of three go out and one person moves in to access a patient while the others are on standby outside ready to help if needed.

The fire department has a plan to deal with a reduced workforce due to sick employees, should that happen. "In the event we are unable to staff with three people on one of our response rigs we will respond with two people so that we still have the resource responding," Morris said. "Our plan allows for flexibility so that we can adjust how we deploy our people to keep as many resources as possible available."

The LOFD is asking for donations for protective gear.

"It is imperative that firefighters and police officers are properly protected during this COVID-19 outbreak. In order to maintain a workforce that can respond to emergencies, our emergency responders need to be healthy," read a memo sent from the LOFD. "Our reality is that we only have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for a limited amount of time. This would include exam gloves, eye protection, N-95 face masks and disposable gowns."

To donate, call 503-635-0275 to arrange a drop-off or for LOFD to pick it up. For additional information and updates, visit the fire department's Facebook page or their Instagram (@lakeoswegofire).

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