Lehigh Acres Fire Department working to stay safe amidst shortage of protective gear

Reporter: Rich Kolko
Published: Updated:
Lehigh Acres Fire Department (WINK News)

A man diagnosed with COVID-19 arrived at an Orange County, California hospital in an isolation chamber with paramedics in hazmat gear loading him out of the ambulance.

But what does the response to patients potentially infected with COVID-19 in Southwest Florida look like?

At the Lehigh Acres Fire Department, a shelf that used to hold N95 masks is now empty.

The N95 mask is really our respiratory mask for us and that is where our shortfall is,” said Captain Larry Arfmann. “We’re having a lot of problems procuring those type of PPE…March of last year, we probably didn’t use any. March of this year, we’ve probably gone through 100.”


That PPE is Personal Protective Equipment and with the shortage, Arfmann’s mission is to protect his paramedics by limiting their exposure to anyone potentially infected by the coronavirus. This starts with dispatchers now trained to question callers.

“Anything that sounds like flu-like symptoms, we’re taking extra PPE precautions,” Arfmann said.

So for Tuesday’s paramedics came new challenges.

We’re training them that it is a virus; we’re training them how to use the proper PPE,” Arfmann said.

So when the alarm sounds, they try to send just one person into the home to check the patient, or better yet, have the patient meet them outside.

Even nursing homes won’t let paramedics in without PPE.

“They are not allowing even the responders in until they get a temperature check and a mask on,” Arfmann said.

Fortunately, there has not been a significant uptick in calls, but keeping the storeroom full is a challenge.

We are not at the crisis stage as far as some PPE, but as far as N95 masks, we are at the crisis phase for N95 masks,” Arfmann said.

He says the safety of his crew and the shortage are on his mind every day.

The Lehigh Acres Fire Department is also working to take care of employees’ mental health during this stressful time. Counseling and employee assistance programs are available.

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