Bolstering the toolbox of first responders in fight against COVID-19 |

Bolstering the toolbox of first responders in fight against COVID-19

Volunteers, paid staff with Roaring Fork Fire Rescue get first round of COVID-19 vaccines

Roaring Fork Fire Rescue training chief Terry Cox receives the first round of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Richard Cornelius, right, at the station in El Jebel on Monday, Dec. 28, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

First responders with Roaring Fork Fire Rescue got a shot in the arm and peace of mind Monday.

Paid staff and volunteers started getting the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the fire station in El Jebel. The fire department, which covers midvalley and Snowmass Village, received 100 vaccinations through Eagle County Public Health. The first round of shots will be administered through the week. A second dose can be administered starting four weeks later.

“We’re not going to let our guard down but it’s a sign of relief,” said Fire Chief Scott Thompson. “It’s one more tool until we have herd immunity.”

The vaccination will keep first responders safer when they come in contact with infected patients as well as prevent the risk of the team spreading COVID among their ranks. Another bonus is department members will be able to resume training, gathering and socializing once the vaccinations are completed.

There haven’t been any collective activities since prior to the breakout of the pandemic in mid-March. Thompson said cohesiveness is vital.

“That’s how we build team,” he said. “We’ve lost that.”

Roaring Fork Fire Rescue responds to about 2,300 calls per year and 80% of those are medical issues, according to the department’s webpage. First responders wear masks, gloves and glasses on calls. They also wear gowns if it is suspected or known the person seeking aid is ill with COVID.

No personnel are known to have caught the virus on the job, according to Thompson. Several people were potentially exposed in off-duty situations but became aware of possible exposure before reporting for duty. The department’s policy is to provide the sick time necessary to quarantine.

Roaring Fork Fire Rescue firefighter paramedic Jessica Waltenburg measures out a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during the first round of vaccination for personnel in El Jebel on Monday, Dec. 28, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Jessica Waltenburg, a firefighter and paramedic with Roaring Fork Fire Rescue, helped give shots to her colleagues Monday. She will wait until she goes off duty Wednesday to get her vaccination in case of any adverse reactions.

Waltenburg said she was slightly concerned about the vaccination because of the quick speed at which it was developed but “nothing that will prevent me from getting it.”

The vaccines won’t have a significant impact on how firefighters and medical personnel interact with the public. They will still wear personal protective equipment while answering calls. The vaccines, however, provide a bit of peace of mind.

“There was definitely a heightened sense of anxiety at the very beginning of the pandemic,” Waltenburg said.

That eased somewhat as Roaring Fork Fire Rescue refined its procedures in response to the crisis. The biggest change has been the speed of some medical responses.

When there is an emergency such as a cardiac arrest, paramedics respond with the same sense of urgency as always. When a call is less urgent, first responders will ask more questions to ascertain if COVID is a risk.

Waltenburg, who also is a nursing student, said she looks forward to the day when the vaccine is more broadly provided to the population at-large.

“It’s kind of like there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

Nevertheless, she believes precautions will be necessary for a very long time.

“I think masks are here to stay,” Waltenburg said.



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