From Temperatures, to Drive-by Birthday Celebrations, COVID-19 has changed things for the Bellevue Fire Department.
(As of Sun. April 5th the Bellevue Fire Department has transported one person who has tested positive for COVID-19.)
Shari Lentsch is proud of the way the personnel at the Bellevue Fire Department (BFD) are all working together during these unprecedented times. As first responders deal with COVID-19 in the Bellevue area, Shari who is the Supervisor of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) for the BFD, knows that they are positively impacting public safety response, and utilizing containment and mitigation initiatives.
Bellevue Fire Department COVID-19 Has Changed Things
Shari tells us that procedures are changing almost daily based on the evolution of this pandemic. One of the latest procedures put into place is that of taking first responders temperatures upon their arrival at the fire stations. Each firefighter has their temperature taken and if the temperature is 100.4 or above they are sent home. This is for the protection of the first responders and the community. Shari said, “We are really keeping an eye out for each other and for the public .”
Shari was a bit concerned at the start, that due to the variability of the virus, the department might have a hard time maintaining the same manpower schedule. She was not sure if COVID-19 would keep the medics and firefighters from helping out with open shifts and keeping the fire stations staffed. Shari explained that “So far we have been able to maintain the same schedule, and people (firefighters) have been exceptional at filling in for each other”. This gives testimony to the dedication of first responders to be there for all of us no matter what.
Bellevue Fire Department Procedures
BFD has new procedures in place to help keep everyone safe when responding to an emergency medical situation. First, they limit the number of personnel who have contact with the patient. Prior to COVID-19 an engine and a rescue squad would arrive at the scene and all six first responders would proceed to the patient together. Now, only one member enters the house/business or has contact with the patient, typically the paramedic from the medic unit. Prior to entering the scene, the paramedic puts on the necessary PPE (personal protective equipment), including a gown, mask, eye protection, and gloves.
The other five first responders remain at the scene and have radio contact with the paramedic. Once contact is made, the paramedic also puts a mask on the patient. The six-foot social distancing rule is followed even with patient care, when possible. If any additional equipment or medical assistance is needed, the paramedic lets the others on the team know and they assist as necessary.
The BFD has created public service announcements to inform the public about the personal protective equipment necessities due to COVID-19, and other policy changes that have been implemented. Shari said this has been very helpful with the community understanding the new procedures and for lessening their fears. “The Bellevue residents have been very understanding of the new safety equipment and procedures. They understand that we are doing all of this for their safety as well as our own,” Shari said.
When arriving at the hospital the Fire Department has new protocols that are required. One change is a specific process that must be followed on how the PPE is removed and disposed of in order to not contaminate anyone or anything else. Also, there is a new procedure for the full decontamination of the medic unit. First, they start by allowing the unit to sit undisturbed for about 15 minutes. While waiting they put on their PPE, including a respirator mask. Next, they use a disinfectant spray that kills COVID-19. The surfaces must remain wet for three minutes then allowed to air dry. Once all surfaces are dry they proceed with routine cleaning practices. The full procedure takes 30-45 minutes now to complete. Shari anticipates the time will decrease as they get more experienced with the procedure. The staff meticulously follows the procedural steps. The decontamination process is completed for each squad every six hours, at a minimum, regardless of whether or not the squad has been out on a call. To slow the spread of the virus, access is restricted at the fire stations and staff is required to use the same door for entrance and exit.
To date, one patient BFD has transported has tested positive for COVID-19. Shari expects to see more now with the community spread of the virus. None of the staff at the Fire Department have tested positive for the virus or even had a fever. However, two City of Bellevue employees tested positive for COVID-19, and both are quarantined along with employees that had contact with them.
Shari attends The City of Bellevue Emergency Operation Center (EOC) forum that currently meets every other day to make sure the city departments are briefed on the latest information related to COVID-19, and that all departments have the supplies they need. The forum is led by Mark Elbert, Emergency Operations Director; Rusty Hike, Mayor; Jim Ristow, City Administrator; Perry Guido, Fire Chief; and Tom Dargy, Acting Police Chief. Currently, Bellevue has enough PPE supplies for immediate needs but will need additional long term, since no one knows how long this will last and how many people will be affected. As the community spread of the virus increases daily, the amount of PPE used each day increases as well.
As Supervisor of EMS, Shari only responds to large scale incidents, or when called by one of the Fire Command officers that have responded to critical emergency situations. Shari is finishing her first week working from home but remains available to respond to critical incidents. She has been a first responder for 19 years, starting with Bellevue as a volunteer firefighter. She has been in her current position for ten years. Shari’s husband, D.J. Lentsch, is also a first responder who works the Road Patrol Division of the Omaha Police Department.
Shari and DJ have grown children and a fifteen-year-old son who is in high school. When asked if her son is fearful of his parents, Shari said, “he is not fearful but empowered.” She said, “We talk as a family and we share with him the information we receive from the health department and other experts. He knows of all the procedures that are put in place to keep us, and the public safe, this helps him to not be fearful, but to be empowered.”
Bellevue Fire Department
The Bellevue Fire Department has canceled all public education events and tours of the stations, however, they do have something special in place for kids in the community. BFD Happy Birthday Drive-by’s, complete with lights and sirens. The drive-by includes a rescue squad and fire truck where the medics and firefighters wave, and hold signs wishing the birthday girl or boy a happy day. To schedule an April Lights and Sirens Happy Birthday Drive-by, please email at least one day in advance, your child’s name, birthday, the address, and date requested to firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course, emergency calls take precedence.
To stay up to date with COVID-19 in Bellevue click here
To visit the Bellevue Fire Department Facebook page click here
For a Bellevue Fire Department Public Service Announcement regarding COVID-19 click here
New Story and Video, from Channel 3 KMTV News Now Omaha, about the Happy Birthday Drive-by’s, click here