Most of us can decide to stay away from people who might be infected with COVID-19.

But firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians don’t have that luxury.

Instead, they rush headfirst into emergencies and accidents where people need help. 

And that includes unknown situations where someone they’re helping just might have the coronavirus.

“Every call that we do have is not a COVID-positive person but we all have to treat it like [it is],” says Jonathan Clinkscale, a Madison Fire Dept. firefighter at Fire Station #10 on the city’s northside.

Adds MFD Lt. Kevin Hembrook: “The added stress of a virus that can affect you and your family members, taking that home from work with you — it isn’t fun to think about.”

One of the changes that the Madison Fire Department has made because of the pandemic is to try and limit the number of personnel interacting with patients on the scene of an emergency or accident — but that’s not always possible.

“If it’s a cardiac arrest or something like that … you need all six people for what’s going on,” explains Hembrook.

For a number of reasons, it’s hard for firefighters, paramedics and EMTs to know how many of their patients have had the coronavirus.

“It’s tough to say … it’s pushing 10 or 12 for sure that I’ve been in contact with that I know of … but a lot of the calls we don’t hear back from where the patients could be positive,” says MFD paramedic Grahm Yahn about how many COVID-positive cases he’s had.

Patients aside, 50 members the Madison Fire Department personnel have contracted COVID-19. That has led to some staffing challenges, as well as an increase in overtime.

“The overtime budget has definitely been drained quite a bit because when you are sick, you have to stay away from the stations, so, we are hiring overtime for firefighters and paramedics to fill those spots,” says Hembrook.

Regardless of the numerous new challenges firefighters, paramedics and EMTs face during the coronavirus pandemic, they say nothing will stop them from helping those who need it.

“You just wear your PPE, you go to work and you get the job done,” adds Hembrook.

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