Frontline Workers: Brownsville Fire Department leads COVID-19 response

Brownsville’s first responders have led the coronavirus response since shelter in place and other Cameron County mandates brought the city to a halt in March. Particularly essential have been emergency workers with the city’s fire department involved with the transport of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients.

On Friday, Fire Chief Jarrett Sheldon said that steps the department took to protect both its workers and the public are likely to become “the new normal” for the time being despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift certain emergency restrictions state-wide.

“ The stress and anxieties are there. I’m not going to relax any of our safety measures that we have in place right now,” he said of his staff.

Sheldon encouraged the public to be cautious and considerate while venturing back into public life. “If you don’t need to be on the road, don’t be on the road,” he said. “We’re encouraging all our personnel to wear a face mask and we’re hoping the public will as well, to continue that trend of flattening the curve.”

Altered operations have been challenging for Brownsville’s fire department personnel, though social distancing measures implemented by city, county, and state officials appear to have made the flow of patients manageable for emergency workers handling everyday services with a pandemic raging.

Brownsville’s fire department began ordering protective equipment in bulk when travel-related cases first appeared in the Rio Grande Valley in March. “There were very challenging times, there were a lot of unknowns,” said Sheldon. “Our goal was to keep everyone safe, as much as possible.”

Obtaining PPE has been a challenge globally, Sheldon noted. “We are continuing to order and we do have a healthy stock right now,” he said.

The department also placed a paramedic in the dispatch center to screen calls related to COVID-19 as residents wondered where to get tested and whether to go to the hospital. “We’re getting ready to shift to a 24-hour paramedic in our dispatch center. It’s really helping keep our system from being overwhelmed right now,” Sheldon said.

The department is using a dedicated ambulance to transport positive or suspicious COVID-19 cases. Paramedics who are also highly-trained hazardous material technicians operate the vehicle outfitted in full PPE and respiratory protection equipment.

Sheldon assured the public that services are ongoing. He encouraged anyone with a medical emergency to call 911 or go to the hospital.

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