Several months ago, the Northport VA Medical Center activated its incident command center, marking the beginning of emergency management operations in response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

A firefighter sanitizes the fire house between tours.

Hospital leadership and staff engaged in around-the-clock incident management, 24-hours a day, seven days a week. The medical center instituted necessary precautions and prepared for long-term operations.

Along with the spread of COVID-19 came a wave operational changes and new considerations for firefighters while on duty. The hospital’s fire department is led by chief Pat McIntyre. McIntyre works with his team daily to ensure the safety of hospital staff and Long Island’s Veterans. Firefighters inspect, test and maintain every fire safety component at the hospital.

“At the beginning of each tour, we start by cleaning the station. We are constantly trying to maintain a clean working environment in the fire house to keep us safe.”

High-risk environment

Firefighters have a long list of responsibilities. They include building inspections, defibrillator inspections, penetration inspections and repairs. And firefighters still answer fire, rescue and ambulance alarms. All must be conducted in a high-risk environment and now with even more personal protective equipment required.

With more vigilant cleaning requirements and new personal protective equipment protocols comes limitations on how and when the fire department could conduct operations.

“Building access has been limited,” said McIntyre. The limit is in response to physical distancing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The firefighters’ new duties include screening everyone who comes through the gate.

The Northport VAMC Fire Department has adjusted to new National Fire Prevention Association requirements by using efficient scheduling to accomplish their fire safety goals.

Adapting to new environment

Additional training and drills for responding to and dealing with infectious disease help the fire department and hospital staff adapt to the new operational environment. Personnel also undergo personal protective gear training and consistent reminders to maintain safe social distance.

Additionally, the fire department has expanded the emergency department into the ambulance bays, set up emergency management buses and constantly cleans and sanitizes the fire house between tours.

Though tasked with multiple responsibilities around the facility, the fire department still steps up when needed, filling any gaps resulting from the new operational tempo.

“The fire department has been maintaining the safety of staff and patients. They’ve been screening everyone that comes through the gate,” McIntyre said.

These precautions have been making a difference at the Northport VA Medical Center. Thanks to the community for their part in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Eric Guzman is a public affairs specialist with the Northport VA Medical Center.

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Published on Sep. 4, 2020

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