TAMPA, Fla. - Of all the changes Americans have made to their daily lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the changes for first responders might be some of the most notable.
Mentally, they are managing the stress of potentially getting sick, on top of the daily stresses of responding to emergency situations. Some have already gotten sick, resulting in loss of work and risking the health of their families, as well.
Tampa police say it’s the reality of life on the front lines, but this is a new challenge for them all.
"There’s no way police officers can do their job without potentially being exposed to the virus,” said Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan.
In many cases, first responders are taking as many precautions as they can, Dugan said.
Masks and gloves are standard, but in short supply. Callers to 911 are being asked to be open and honest with dispatchers about their health, symptoms, and possible exposure to the novel coronavirus.
"It allows the dispatchers to give information to the responders so they can come into the situation geared up and equipped to protect themselves,” said Tampa Fire Assistant Chief Mark Bogush. “It only takes one to infect an entire response team which can be up to six people."
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Regardless, TPD says anyone who needs help will get it.
“If we’re responding to a call and screening information and we know someone potentially has the virus, then we'll don their equipment. Other than that, its business as usual.”
However, law enforcement agencies are being forced to prioritize calls and, in some cases, won’t send someone out right away, depending on the circumstances.
“If somebody broke into your car last night, we're taking a lot of those reports over the phone. We're not processing crime scenes like we used to. We're handling a lot more telephonically,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
He says crimes in progress or harm to people will still be handled like normal.
“It'll be evaluated on a case-by-case basis but I don’t think there's anything that would comprise public safety,” he added.
If you feel sick:
The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.
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