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5 South Bend firefighters in quarantine after exposure to COVID-19 patient

SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- Five South Bend Fire Department firefighters are in quarantine after interacting with a patient who later tested positive for COVID-19, according to the city of South Bend.

The firefighters interacted with a patient on Saturday, March 14 for a 9-1-1 call unrelated to COVID-19.

The department was later informed the patient tested positive for COVID-19.

“I was kind of surprised that they were exposed as well,” Nancy Lockhart said, Fire Operations Chief for St. Joseph County 911.

That is because the dispatch call was unrelated to COVID-19 and the protocol in place to protect from the virus was not triggered.

All five firefighters are now in quarantine and are awaiting test results.

It is too soon to tell whether anyone in the public could have caught the virus, though none of the five firefighters have exhibited any symptoms, according to a South Bend City Spokesman.

Special protocols have been implemented for all COVID-19 calls with dispatch continuing to move towards safety measures.

“So, it may sound funny for one of your viewers if they call in because a loved one is having a stroke and when we get done with all of the stroke questions, then we start asking questions about COVID-19,” Lockhart said. “And it’s simply just to protect the responders and anybody that may be going to the scene or whatever so that we know. We just want to try to protect everybody and keep everybody healthy as best we can.”

Fire Department leaders want everyone who calls 9-1-1 to be transparent if they are experiencing any symptoms whatsoever so that dispatch can then trigger the proper protocols.

“We don’t want to deplete all of our resources on flu-like cases where there are absolutely zero life-threatening symptoms,” Lockhart said. “I think it’s worth the time to make sure we’re sending the right resources to the right people at the right time or getting them to the right place to answer their questions.”

Officials remind residents if you call 9-1-1 notify dispatchers if you or anyone present is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 - even if calling for different reasons.

As the pandemic continues to alter everyday life, many community members are able to work from home and travel for only essentials.

First responders continue to be on the front line of the pandemic and St. Joseph County dispatch continues to implement special protocols to keep both emergency personnel and the public safe.

First responders will limit their interactions with all patients, wear protective equipment and take safety precautions when handing off a patient at the hospital.

With the newest protocol in place, dispatchers will go through a screening process with 9-1-1 callers as an extra measure to keep the community safe.

For all non-life-threatening illnesses, including possible Coronavirus symptoms, all callers will be directed to 211 instead of 911 to go through the new checklist.

If a caller experiences symptoms such as a fever and a sore throat, they will be directed to 211. If the caller is experiencing more serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing, first responders will be sent out with the proper protective equipment.

While screening could take a minute to a minute and a half longer than usual, these measures will help to ensure the safety of the emergency personnel and the public.

“That’s a very big concern because if those people are exposed and are down and if there’s something we can do to help protect them, so we don’t run out of first responders…that’s kind of our job to do that,” Lockhart said. “So, we want to make sure that they’re protected first and foremost, but even more importantly than that is to make sure that we have enough resources to respond to the community.”

Contributions to this story also made by: Brenda Koopsen

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