Village Voices: Hear from Andy Fisher of Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority on COVID-19 response
For this month’s Local Spotlight, the Snowmass Sun sought to speak with a local first responder helping respond to and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. That responder was Andy Fisher, a longtime Snowmass resident and lieutenant paramedic with Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority. Here’s what he had to say:
Snowmass Sun: How long have you been in Snowmass?
Andy Fisher: I’ve been here for 15 years. I think this is my 16th winter.
SS: And have you been working at the fire station that long as well?
AF: I’ve been with the fire station for 9 years. I started at Snowmass Fire and then we merged (to become Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority) and I’ve been on Snowmass Ski Patrol since 2006.
SS: So walk me through what things have been like for you guys at Roaring Fork Fire Rescue over the past few weeks, how you’ve been involved in the COVID-19 mitigation response?
AF: Yeah it’s been a very crazy two weeks just like it has been for everyone else and the amount of information flowing our way seems to be updated daily, so we’re constantly adapting to federal and state level data and statistics involving COVID-19 and adapting our operation in order to keep us as responders as safe as possible and still provide the high level of service that the community expects.
The biggest challenge for us has just been staying current. You know every time you come in for a shift, protocols have been updated to reflect new data and our staffing model is constantly changing to keep exposure down. We’re also spreading ourselves out in the station, I’m at a house right now with one other person and we haven’t come within six feet of each other yet. And we’re doing daily checks on all responders working at each station to trend and hopefully rule out potential illness within our staff.
So everyone’s kind of practicing that social distancing in the district’s three houses and then with regard to our calls, we work closely with dispatch so if dispatch takes a call from a 911-caller, dispatch is going to ask them a series of questions and if their answers meet their COVID-19 protocol, they’ll notify us and that clues us in that we’re going into a potentially infectious situation, so we’re going to slow down a little bit and make sure that we are fully protected in the PPE or the personal protective equipment that we need to stay safe. That’s a gown and N95mask, eye protection and gloves.
At that point, where we normally respond with a 2-person ambulance crew and maybe more depending on the call, sometimes we send two ambulances to something that sounds serious, now we’re just sending that one person in all of their PPE in and we’re interviewing people through a barrier, whether it’s a door or glass, to ask them a series of questions. If they meet certain criteria, we talk them into self-quarantining in place, to stay home if they’re able to maintain oxygen saturation and have the ability to breathe without supplemental oxygen just due to the local hospitals potentially being maxed out. So us transporting some of these people isn’t really necessarily always the right thing.
Overall I would say that it’s completely changed the way we assess people, it’s completely changed the way our transport decisions are made and it’s almost like we view every single contact as a potential exposure.
SS: In the interactions you have had with community members, what is your sense of how the community is reacting to the potential spread of coronavirus here locally?
AF: Well what we’ve seen for the most part is you know people really taking good practice with social distancing. As I look out the window right now I can see people doing it. But we’ve seen the full gamut of people embracing what’s being asked of them from their community leaders and their state leaders to stay indoors, to limit travel, I mean as I look out the window I don’t see anyone driving down this busy street that usually would be crowded, and then all the way to the other side of the spectrum, where we’ve had members of the public approach us when we’re in our full gowns, our full PPE and masks and goggles and it looks scary. It looks like something out of a movie you would see where responders are fully isolated in all their gear and we’ve had people approach us extremely upset and that’s understandable. But I think the important thing to know is that we have very, very strict protocol that we’re following and it’s set forth by the state and we have chief level officers in our organization that are on the Incident Management Team communicating with the state so it’s not like we’re just making this stuff up. We are following protocol.
So yeah, we’ve seen kind of both ends of the spectrum with people really abiding and people being really, really scared.
SS: How have you guys worked to keep calmness and morale and sort of mental wellness up among responders during this uncertain and potentially scary time?
AF: Yeah, I think the number one thing is we are very much encouraged to when, you know we work 48 hour shifts and then we’re off for 96 hours and when we’re off we’re off. Our leaders are very supportive of us just going home and being home and not being involved, not stressing about what’s going on at work and engaging in the lifestyle, that’s the reason we live here. For me personally, my family is what keeps me sane.
But then here at work we have a Peer Support Team, we have connections to the Hope Center and most of all we’re just here for each other really on a one-on-one and crew level. The family environment inside of the firehouse is one of the best parts about the fire service.
It’s also kind of cool the way that all of our chiefs are really coming together to support us. They’re very focused on providing the level of service we always have with like an extreme emphasis on keeping staff protected and making sure that the staff is supported in their home life, too. We’re talking about a day care program and they’ve just totally adapted with our time off, you know if you’re sick or you need to be with your family. So the support from the top has been really helpful. In a time when most people are getting laid off, we’re being really supported in an effort to keep us safe so we can keep responding to our community.
SS: Is there anything else you feel like is important for the Snowmass community or the county community as a whole to understand about this time and how you guys are working to serve them while also protecting yourselves?
AF: You know we don’t really have much of a social media presence but we’ve decided that we’re going to kind of adopt this #StayHomeForUs hashtag. You know when you see the base of Tiehack look like the Highlands closing day party on a weekend and see people who are kind of not abiding by the social distancing and unknowingly spreading are potentially spreading (coronavirus), it’s putting everyone at risk.
For me, when I come into work right now it’s totally different. It’s super stressful and if I get exposed at work I could potentially be quarantined for 14 days away from my family. That’s unsettling. And so to see people not participating in the social distancing and showing little regard for community spread, that’s hurtful.
So the #StayHomeForUs means we’re doing our part, I’m coming here to do my part and serve the community and I think it’s really important that everyone plays the same role. …Let’s just make this happen now so we can move on from it and I think if everyone plays along, we’ll be through this a lot quicker, so yeah I think playing by the rules now more than ever is super important.