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5 KCK firefighters in self-isolation after transporting COVID-19 patient

Virus Outbreak Testing coronavirus
Posted at 12:17 PM, Mar 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-13 19:30:00-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Five firefighters who responded to the Life Care Center in Kansas City, Kansas, where a man resided before his death related to COVID-19, are now in self-isolation, sources confirmed to 41 Action News on Friday.

Assistant Chief Mark Heath said the five-person crew responded to the facility to transport a patient in cardiac arrest. The man was taken to Providence Hospital, where he died Wednesday.

The Wyandotte County man, who was in his 70s, tested positive for COVID-19 after his death, Gov. Laura Kelly said on Thursday.

IAFF Local 64 President J.J. Simma said Friday that it's typical for firefighters to respond to calls where they don't know a patient's medical history or have all the information. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, however, he hopes that additional steps will be taken to help keep first responders safe.

"We're looking for protocols, resources, direction and the ability to go out and do our jobs to the best of the ability and take care of the public, but do that without possibly putting ourselves, our family or anyone else in further danger," Simma said. "I just hope we can get ahead of this now."

Simma told 41 Action News earlier this week that he was concerned enough precautions are not being taken.

The KCK Fire Department said it is considering additional protective measures for both firefighters and patients, but the unpredictable nature of COVID-19 has complicated those efforts.

KCK firefighters are trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, and face masks and protective suits are available in suspected cases.

The man who died was in his 70s and had underlying health conditions. His death marked the first in Kansas related to the coronavirus and the first confirmed case of local transmission in either Kansas or Missouri.

At a special meeting on Friday, the Kansas City, Missouri, EMS Office also discussed whether to waive or change protocol in light of COVID-19.

“We’re looking to be ahead of the game,” said Jimmy Walker, deputy fire chief with the Kansas City, Missouri, Fire Department. “We haven’t changed any specific protocols yet.”

But the meeting cleared any hurdles if KCFD’s administration determines change is necessary to protect emergency workers and the general public.

If it becomes necessary to adjust protocols surrounding patient care — for example, when to transport a patient to a hospital or when it might be necessary to isolate a patient and treat them in place — those decisions will be made at a later time.

There are “a couple people” who work for KCFD currently under self-quarantine, according to Walker.

So far, no department personnel have tested positive for COVID-19.

KCFD has instituted welfare checks at the beginning and in the middle of each shift to ensure that firefighters who may been feeling unwell self-report and go home, if necessary.

“Our workforce is relatively young and relatively healthy, but if someone isn’t feeling well we want to limit exposure and put off work until they are tested,” Walker said.

If someone were to test positive, they would be sent home on paid leave until cleared by a doctor to return to duty, Walker said.

He also stressed that the protective equipment firefighters may start to wear more often, including medical-grade facemasks and Tyvek haz-mat suits, are designed as much for the safety of patients — many of whom may be in at-risk groups for serious COVID-19 complications — as they are for the firefighters.