First responders in one Southwest Florida community are battling something they were not ready for: the coronavirus.
Every day, firefighters in Immokalee enter as many as eight homes with people infected with COVID-19. Immokalee is currently the hardest hit area in Southwest Florida.
The Florida Department of Health shows the community in Collier County has more than 1,000 cases – or 8% of the population, as of June 12.
Immokalee Fire Control District said team members don’t have enough protective equipment.
“The first few times we went into a possible COVID-19 home … it was scary,” said Ryne Rosenbalm, a firefighter/EMT. “It really was.”
Answering coronavirus calls is now routine in Immokalee. People work and live in close quarters, so social distancing is next to impossible.
“People stacked on top of people. I mean a 20-foot by 10-foot trailer,” Rosenbalm said. “You can see up to 13 people in there. The conditions are very clustered, and the risk of getting [COVID-19] or transferring [COVID-19] from one patient to another is unreal.”
Immokalee’s Station 30 is the first line of defense against the virus.
Fire Chief Michael Choate said PPE is what protects his crew, at least for now.
“We certainly don’t have the resources or the financial means to purchase a lot of the equipment,” Choate said. “We’re running through right now, and so we’re having to rely upon our partners with Collier County EMS and the other fire districts to share resources with us.”
While firefighters and emergency medical responders are going to those in immediate need, Collier County and the county health department are working together to try to help people in Immokalee self-isolate. The public agencies have plans to open what they call a medical isolation facility where people can stay while they recover.