COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — The death Wednesday of an El Paso County Sheriff's Deputy to COVID-19 was a painful reminder of the dangers first responders face during the pandemic. Deputy Jeff Hopkins, 41, had served with the sheriff's office since 2001.
Firefighters, paramedics and ambulance companies in Colorado Springs have taken additional precautions to protect themselves from the spread of the disease. Captain Michael Smaldino of the Colorado Springs Fire Department said that firefighters will now wear gloves, masks, goggles and even bodysuits when responding to 911 calls seeking medical attention.
He wants the public to know that if they see firefighters going into a neighbors home in full personal protective equipment (PPE.)
"That doesn't mean that they're sick. It means that they called 911 for a reason, but we just have to take these universal precautions from here on out," Smaldino said.
"If we start getting sick, then obviously that's going to be a draw down on the system to be able to get out and help you."
Supplies of personal protective equipment have been hard to come buy. Smaldino said the fire department stocked up early when the virus was first showing up in other states on the west coast. They also contacted firefigthers in the State of Washington to learn what lessons they could in protecting themselves during the outbreak.
"Good and bad part of that is that we're using and we're being safe. The bad part of it is, it's not unlimited amount," Smaldino said.
Tawyna Silloway, a spokesperson for Global Medical Response, the parent company of AMR ambulance serivce, said in a statement that they are working with vendors to keep their employees well stocked with PPE.
"Although we are not currently out of PPE supplies, we have experienced some delays on materials delivered to a few operations," Silloway said.
"We continue to work with all our healthcare and first responder partners to tap into local cached supplies and distribution to areas of need."
On Sunday, the non-profit group Project Cure held a PPE drive for local doctors and nurses at UCHealth Park. A mattress company in Denver recently retooled its factory to manufacture surgical masks in order to help increase the supply.
Smaldino said that a couple of Colorado distilleries, Monument's 300 Days of Shine and Old Oak Burbon from Fort Collins, have converted their operation to begin making hand sanitizer. Both companies have donated gallons of the disinfectant to the fire department.
Smaldino echoed the advice of Dr. Robin Johnson, the Public Health Director for El Paso County in saying the best way for the public to help those on the front lines of this outbreak is to stay at home.
"By staying home and avoiding contact with others if you are experiencing mild symptoms or suspect that you were exposed, you are helping to prevent the spread of the disease in your home and community," Dr. Johnson said.
Click here for the latest update on the number of cases, the age, gender and location of presumptive positive, indeterminate and confirmed cases from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.