Paramedics are gearing up and staying safe amid pandemic

NILES, Mich. – Healthcare workers on the frontlines are the heroes of the pandemic these days. All of them trying to help others in need while risking their own own exposure to the deadly virus every day.

We spoke to Jim Kalinowski who’s been a paramedic in the Michiana area for over 30 years, but he says this pandemic is something new even for him.

“It’s like nothing I’ve ever experience before,” he said.

Kalinowski has worked for Southwest Michigan Community Ambulance Services for years, never thinking he’d be on the frontlines of a pandemic.

“We’ve trained for it since September 11th. Even though this isn’t really a bioweapon, it’s just something in the air, our training is allowed us to continue on and provide the best patient care we can,” he said.

Each day, risking his life, helping patients arrive safely to area hospitals.

“We just absolutely are always mindful that anybody we come in contact with could be infectious and we just approach it from that standpoint,” Kalinowski said.

But most of the time it’s hard to know if a patient has tested positive.

“As far as ones that are positive for coronavirus, we don’t know that until we’re called to do a transfer but patients exhibiting the signs, symptoms, we have probably two or three a day,” he said.

You’d think paramedics and EMTs would be on more rides than they can handle during a pandemic but that’s just not the case.

“In a day we can get anything from 18 to 22, 22 would definitely be on the high side,” he said that’s on a normal day. “We’re probably 10-12, 15 would be a high side now.”

During this time, they are still taking extra safety precautions, making sure they clean the ambulance twice a day and after every patient. And of course, they always make sure they are equipped with personal protection equipment.

“We’re very well dressed. We’re very well protected and the risk to us is minimal,” he said.

Even so Kalinowski says he’s extra careful coming home every day since his wife is high risk of getting the virus.

“She’s high risk with a pre-existing condition but I’ve taken precautions to what I do after a shift. I will bring in a fresh change of clothes, I’ll go home in my “civi’s” so to speak, I’ll take a shower before I leave the station so that way my potential of infecting her is reduced.”

One of the most important parts of his job now that coronavirus cases continue to rise in the Michiana area is keeping a level head.

“It definitely gives us a good feeling that we’re out there helping to make a difference, help minimize peoples fear and anxiety to this. We keep a cool head and hopefully that spreads through the community,” he said.

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