Early preparation helped Westport EMS tackle coronavirus
WESTPORT — Marc Hartog has seen a number of crises over his 20-year career with Westport EMS, but the novel coronavirus has provided unique challenges.
“Clearly, this is an unprecedented challenge, certainly in any of our lifetimes,” Hartog said.
Before joining Westport EMS, he worked as a paramedic in New York City for 20 years. Hartog, now deputy director of Westport EMS, said over the span of his career, he’s seen a range of crises from HIV in the ‘80s to the Ebola scare in the 2010s.
“This is unprecedented,” he said of the coronavirus. “It’s presented us with some different challenges of ensuring all of our providers remain as safe and protected as possible while still providing the type of medical care that our residents and visitors to Westport expect of us.”
Luckily, Westport EMS was proactive in training and preparation for the virus, he said. Before the first case broke in town, Hartog said staff was already being prepared with personal protective equipment.
“We did this as it was starting to come over from China and that there were patients in the U.S. starting to show symptomology,” he said. “Following CDC and Department of Public Health recommendations, we came up with protocols and equipment that we need to use.”
Westport EMS members completed their training a day before the unit was called for its first patient with COVID-19.
“We’re truly lucky in that respect, that our first call for a patient that might have had this — that people were already trained and equipped to be able to take care of that patient while maintaining their own safety,” Hartog said.
Through the generosity of town residents and other organizations, he said, Westport EMS has been able to procure enough personal protective equipment for staff. Westport EMS also had gloves and masks in stock before the coronavirus became widespread.
“We were able to retrain our staff how to use this PPE right from the start,” Hartog said.
The overall call volume for Westport EMS has not increased significantly since the first case in town, Hartog said, crediting the collaborative effort of Westporters and first responders.
In addition to equipment donations, some residents have also found other ways to support Westport EMS, he said, naming Westport resident Nicole Straight, who started Food for the Front Lines to support healthcare workers and restaurants. Funds raised help to purchase meals for first responders and medical personnel, he said.
Hartog said the collaborative work between people on the front line is also important including that between first responders and residents.
“We thank the public for their support as much as they seem to be thanking us for what we’re doing,” he said.