Addressing your concerns: COVID-19 resources for EMS personnel

News and expert analysis to help alleviate the top pandemic-related stressors


The COVID-19 pandemic has generated significant collective stress among people all around the world. For EMS personnel and other first responders on the front lines, the stress is even more acute.

To better understand the state of stress among firefighters, we asked the EMS1 community, “What is your biggest COVID-19-related concern?” 

While running out of protective supplies (34%) was the greatest concern shared by EMS1 members, the possibility of infecting others (20%) follows closely behind becoming personally infected (24%), and ranked higher than more personal inconveniences like longer working hours due to staffing shortages (15%) or being sidelined due to exposure (7%). Read more about the results.

The EMS1 team is working hard to share news and develop content that will help alleviate some of these stressors – or at least help you cope.

FDNY paramedics Elizabeth Bonilla, right, and Keith Kahara, left, suit up in personal protective equipment on an emergency call, Wednesday, April 15, 2020, in the Bronx borough of New York.
FDNY paramedics Elizabeth Bonilla, right, and Keith Kahara, left, suit up in personal protective equipment on an emergency call, Wednesday, April 15, 2020, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Following are resources specific to each of the top COVID-19 concerns:

STRESSOR 1: LACK OF PPE

Stretching your service’s supply of N95 respirators: Michael Fraley, BS, BA, NRP, outlines NIOSH guidelines for extended use and limited reuse of N95 masks, including storage and cleaning tips.

11 unlikely sources of PPE donations: Rachel Engel explains that as the medical community adjusts to keep up with the pace of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare professionals are receiving PPE donations from surprising places. Here are some options for where to find PPE.

What is the Defense Production Act, and could it help slow the PPE shortage? Rachel Engel shares how the Korean War-era law has been touted by several health officials, political leaders and historians as a way of getting needed supplies into the hands of medical workers.

CDC announces PPE usage calculator tool: The CDC has released a spreadsheet designed to assist healthcare and public safety agencies with planning and optimizing the use of personal protective equipment. Agencies can enter the number of full boxes of gowns, gloves, surgical masks, face shields and any other types of PPE the agency has into the PPE Burn Rate Calculator. The spreadsheet will then calculate the average consumption rate for each type of PPE.

STRESSOR 2: BEING INFECTED

How first responders can boost immunity during pandemic: Aaron Zamzow offers advice for keeping our immune systems functioning as efficiently as possible.

Coronavirus and the importance of infection control plans for public safety agencies: Bryan Wilson shares how public safety agencies must review their health and safety procedures, including mandated exposure control and respiratory protection plans, to protect providers.

Stanford Medicine creates COVID-19 guide app for first responders: The First Responder COVID-19 Guide app, available for free on the Apple app store, provides up-to-date information about the pandemic from experts at the university, helping first responders determine if they should seek testing.

How to safely manage COVID-19 respiratory failure patients: The Montgomery County Hospital District EMS shares its specific airway algorithm and tips on how to prevent transmission during airway management interventions.

STRESSOR 3: INFECTING OTHERS

How can I protect my family from COVID-19? Emily Pearce shares a checklist for reducing the risk of transmitting exposure after returning from a shift.

Prevent transmission between department and home: We ask several fire service leaders what measures they are following to ensure they don’t take COVID-19 home after their shifts or even bring COVID-19 to the station. Consider if these best practices could be implemented at your department in order to help minimize transmission of COVID-19 among your members and their families.

STRESSOR 4: INADEQUATE STAFFING

Q&A: Data-driven EMS staffing for COVID-19: Leaders from Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service and Snohomish County Fire District detail how they’re monitoring the COVID-19 surge and preparing for the worst-case scenario.

Longitudinally tracking fire/EMS staff exposure to COVID-19: one of the nation’s largest agencies, L.A. County Fire Department (LACoFD), shares how it rapidly implemented a COVID-19 exposure tracking system based on community paramedicine to measure personnel risk with Rob Lawrence.

EMS surge capacity: Where to find more caregivers for COVID-19 response: Emily Pearce relates how others in the community, with basic first response training, may be able to jump in and help with the response in this exceptional time.

STRESSOR 5: BEING QUARANTINED/ISOLATED

What constitutes COVID-19 exposure and when to quarantine vs. isolate: Fire Chief Marc Bashoor helps sort through the maze of public health information overload and overlap so you understand if and when you need to quarantine or isolate.

STRESS MANAGEMENT RESOURCES

With all these stressors, it’s also important to focus on mitigating the stress itself. Here are some useful resources for coping with the stress created by COVID-19.

Self-care is critical for managing stress levels in EMTs and paramedics responding to COVID-19: Ryan Kelley, NREMT, offers tips to gauge your mental health and emotional wellbeing so that your stress levels are manageable and allow you to best help your community.

First responders, stress management and coronavirus: In this webinar, resilience expert Mike Taigman addresses some of the most pressing stressors facing first responders and provides strategies to help manage stress during the long haul of this pandemic. Find additional stress management-focused resources here.

Protecting the mental health of first responders during a pandemic: Amy Morgan, MSC, CFRC(D), TECC-LEO, underscores why taking care of yourself is not an extracurricular activity, it’s a necessity so you can keep taking care of others, and also offers tips for how to manage your mental health during this difficult time.

Video: Evidence-based strategies for sleep health during pandemic: Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Emergency Medicine have published a video offering evidence-based strategies for better sleep health, aimed at helping first responders get more adequate sleep while working extra or extended shifts during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

COVID-19: From post-traumatic stress to post-traumatic growth: Dr. Sara Jahnke explains how first responders can use deliberate rumination to positively process their COVID-19 experiences.

UPLIFTING NEWS

One way to cope with stress is to focus on positive news – and there’s a lot of that happening as well, with countless individuals and organizations seeking out ways to help first responders. And first responders are seeking out ways to help other front-line personnel, like doctors and nurses.

Here’s some good news:

For more COVID-19 breaking news, action items and advice for how to manage and move through this unique situation, bookmark EMS1’s COVID-19 Special Coverage page.

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