Cleaning, coping, and saving lives amid COVID-19

Justin Boucher, Langley Station 252 Unit Chief, talks about life as a paramedic during a pandemic

Ambulance paramedics and emergency dispatchers are often the first step in the arduous journey for anyone battling coronavirus.

They are that first calming voice, the careful touch or helpful advice that a person struggling with the disease encounters.

But, despite their bravery and commitment to the job, ultimately they are human just like all of us and face the same doubts and concerns that we all do in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Justin Boucher, Langley Station 252 Unit Chief, described the last month as “interesting,” assuring the Langley Advance Times reporter that a lot of changes have been implemented.

“There’s a lot more cleaning,” Boucher said. “Cleaning the station and cars and ourselves with alcohol based wipes – you never realize how many high touch areas there are until you really have to pay attention.”

Boucher said Langley’s paramedics are changing gloves after every call and washing hands frequently as part of sanitary measures to help protect themselves from COVID-19.

“Every call takes far longer than they have in the past,” he noted. “People have been receptive to it and have been understanding.”

There are two stations in Langley – one in Murrayville with five ambulances and one in Walnut Grove with four.

With two paramedics assigned to each vehicle, that equates to 18 people on duty to serve and protect all of Langley from far more than just COVID-19.

While Boucher said his team have responded to COVID-19-related calls, safety protocols and what he called “heightened sense of hyper-vigilance” has kept the paramedics safe during contact.

“The cases, when you look at Langley, make up less than 10 per cent of the public – so from that standard, we’re doing great,” Boucher added.

He said BC Emergency Health Services learned a lot from the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s and many of the protocols developed at that time have gone into COVID-19 protection.

“The transition has been fairly natural,” Boucher assured.

One of the big adjustments that the BC Emergency Health Service made early on was to organize and focus paramedics all across the province to best equip them as they fight on the front lines of the pandemic.

In mid-March, an emergency coordination centre was set up for paramedics across the province, which was located in Victoria but has since been moved to Vancouver.

At the centre, meetings are held every day of the week focusing on the strategic details of BC EHS’s plan to combat the virus, along with the operations of paramedics across the province and logistics in dealing with supplies and personal protective equipment, and the most important meeting – communication.

BC EHS has now implemented daily practice updates in video format that get sent out to all paramedics in a Facebook group.

Leading up to the declaration of the pandemic, 911 call takers would ask a series of questions to determine the likelihood of the patient having COVID-19. Now, everyone is treated as if they have the virus.

This has led to a change in procedure for paramedics making house calls. Normally, a paramedic would walk right in, sit down next to you and start treating your illness; now, paramedics call the patient to the door.

Making sure to stand three metres away, and dressed in full personal protective equipment (PPE) – protective glasses, the best quality mask, a full apron or gown, a face shield and, of course, gloves – paramedics will assess the situation.

But the added difficulties of being extra cautious and vigilant has not come without positives; Boucher stressed that community support has made the job easier.

“The community support is wonderful – people are putting up posters and hearts in the window and leaving cookies and treats at the station,” he said – additionally commending the seven o’clock cheer.

“It’s great going out for the parade and seeing all those people – though it’s almost borderline breaking social distancing rules,” he said.

For people unsure what to do in this unprecedented time, Boucher advised to simply keep handwashing and maintaining a distance between others.

“People are listening. The streets have been quieter. I’ve driven past parks and noticed fewer people. Just keep on keeping on,” Boucher advised. “Try not be complacent about it – we’re all in this together and the sense of community really is helping.”


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