As local volunteer emergency response teams have been adapting their operations due to COVID-19, they’ve implemented new protocols to protect themselves and those they serve. Crews have seen an increase in respiratory related calls, but a decrease in the overall number of emergency response calls. 

“We worry that there are people sitting at home who should be seeking medical care but are afraid to,” said Ed Meyers, medic and member of the Board of Directors of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad. “They shouldn’t let that fear stop them.” 

Meyers recounted a recent call in which he had to talk someone into going to the hospital because he felt so strongly that they needed to be there. 

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EMT Joseph Roberts demonstrates the sanitization process used before leaving for a call.

Credit: Mike Kropf/Charlottesville Tomorrow

Virginia Leavell, president of the Board of Directors, noted that overall call volume has been down 36% to 38% since the stay-at-home order, while there has been an increase in respiratory calls as well as calls from “people who are concerned that they may have COVID-like symptoms.” 

There has also been an increase in refusals. Leavell surmised that perhaps people have decided that they don’t want to go to the hospital when they see the EMT’s arrive on scene wearing all of their personal protective equipment, or PPE, including gowns, face shields, gloves and P100 masks.

Across town at the Seminole Trail Volunteer Fire Department, Battalion Chief Rob Knight agrees that there’s been a definite decline in call volume. 

“We don’t have as many fire alarm activations because, of course, all the businesses are closed for the most part,” he said. “There have been less car accidents. … Car wrecks still happen, but … it’s significantly down.” 

Knight also spoke about the changes that have been made throughout the department over the past couple of months. A new crew layout was implemented going from five crews of 10 to 20 people to eight crews of three to five people.

“If we do have a crew member that gets exposed for whatever reason and we have to quarantine that whole crew for two weeks, [then] we’re not out 15 people, we’re out four people,” he explained. 

Along with spreading out crew members, the potential spread of the virus is being fought by using an updated and elevated cleaning procedure. According to Knight, the entire station is cleaned with bleach solutions every 12 hours. 

At CARS, Leavell said, “if you’re here at the right time of day you can see a fleet of people with bleach filled backpacks spraying down everything.”

Another change that Seminole Trail has made is that they are not taking on new volunteers at the moment. At CARS, however, volunteers are welcome and there have been many applications lately as well as older members coming back. 

“There’s been a slight uptick in donations that we don’t typically see at this time of year and I think some of that is community members recognizing the incredible contribution that our volunteers are making and the sacrifice and risk that they’re taking to serve their community,” said Leavell. “We’re really grateful for any of the community support that we get.”

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Virginia Leavell and Joseph Roberts on May 12 wear personal protective equipment in the lobby of the Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad building.

Credit: Mike Kropf/Charlottesville Tomorrow