South King Fire prepares for possibility of local coronavirus outbreak

If a first responder from South King Fire and Rescue does require to be quarantined due to the virus, the agency has designated isolation sites on fire department property.

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to develop, various agencies in Federal Way are preparing for the possibility of a local impact.

In Kirkland, 27 firefighters and three police officers have been placed under cautionary quarantine after responding to calls at Life Care Center where they were exposed to the virus, according to Kellie Stickney, communications program manager for Kirkland.

Two firefighters have been released after completing the recommended quarantine period showing no signs of symptoms.

“All 32 first responders are linked to responses to incidents at the Life Care Center of Kirkland,” Stickney wrote on March 5. “Twelve first responders are showing flu-like symptoms, and 19 have confirmed direct exposure.”

In Federal Way, South King Fire and Rescue has not been requested to assist the Eastside neighboring districts amid staff quarantines yet, but fire officials are prepared should the need arise.

South King Fire recently joined the Zone 3 consortium, which includes departments from Burien down to SKFR’s jurisdictions of Federal Way and Des Moines, and from Vashon Island to Maple Valley.

Emergency situations, such as the current pandemic, highlight the zone’s purpose of sharing resources and having a cohesive, streamlined response for all of South King County, SKFR Capt. Brad Chaney told the Mirror.

“It is important to know that these first responders [in Kirkland] were exposed unknowingly,” Chaney said. “Should anyone of our firefighters be exposed, we have plans in place for them to quarantine within the district preventing them from spreading the virus elsewhere, especially to loved ones at home.”

If a first responder from SKFR does require to be quarantined due to the virus, the agency has designated isolation sites on fire department property, Chaney said.

Currently, 911 dispatchers are asking additional questions regarding travel, the patient’s current medical condition, and advising appropriate protective equipment to responding crews when a patient presents with symptoms that could be from COVID-19 virus, Chaney said. Protective equipment includes masks, eye protection, gloves and pull-on gowns.

When on scene, responding crews are taking extra care when entering the home, treating the patient and transporting.

Transporting patients who present symptoms of the COVID-19 virus to a hospital will be avoided whenever possible unless the patient’s symptoms are severe, Chaney said.

Once the response is complete, firefighters and paramedics are instructed to follow specific, thorough decontamination procedures before providing care to another patient. First responders follow a specific removal sequence of protective items (removing gloves, gown, eye protection then mask) to reduce contamination contact. They also use alcohol-based wipes on exposed skin areas and spray their work boots with a disinfectant before caring for the next patient.

SKFR’s Hazardous Materials Team is highly trained and efficient in managing biological hazards in the possibility of a local need, although King County Public Health said the transmission of the virus is not occurring on a widespread basis, Chaney said.

Most coronavirus illnesses are mild with a fever and cough, Chaney said, and the majority do not require hospital care.

A much smaller percentage of cases are severe and may include pneumonia, particularly in elderly individuals and those with underlying medical conditions.

As of Friday morning, 14 people have died from the virus in Washington state.

Individuals who suspect they may have contracted the virus and are in stable condition should consult with their primary care physician via phone, instead of calling 911.

SKFR also encourages the public to follow guidelines from King County Public Health:

Personal hygiene

• More hand washing; less face touching. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

• Cover your mouth/nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing.

• Regular use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer covering all surfaces of the hands and rubbing them together until dry will decrease risk that the virus is transmitted to you or other people.

• Avoid contact with people who are sick.

• Stay home while you are sick and avoid close contact with others.

At home

• Have a plan to care for family members should they get sick or schools/offices be closed.

• Know your workplace telecommute options and school/daycare policies.

• Stock up on food supplies and prescription medications now, so you don’t have to leave your home if you or someone in your household becomes infected.

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