On the NFPA Journal Podcast this week, Pieter Maes, a firefighter EMT at the Brussels fire department in Belgium, talks about the extraordinary steps that emergency responders in this European capital are taking to prepare for the onslaught of the Coronavirus pandemic. The crisis has forced the department to get creative in many ways, Maes says, like hiring doctors to work in dispatch, extensive new decontamination measures, and other new procedures that were once-unthinkable just months ago before the COVID-19 crisis began.
Like other departments across the world, Brussels is also dealing with many difficult questions: For instance, how to determine if a COVID-19 patient is sick enough to send EMS units? And, with severe shortages in critical protective equipment, what levels of risk should responders be asked to take while working on the front lines of fighting this disease?
To help departments answer some of those difficult questions, Maes has created a database website, covidfirstresponse.com, where responders from all over the world have submitted various strategies for how they are dealing with the crisis. This crowd-sourced material includes instructions for how to 3D-print face shields, sewing patterns for homemade masks, and scientifically-backed strategies for effectively decontaminating equipment.
I spoke to Maes on Friday, March 27. Since then, the number of people in Belgium who have tested positive for COVID-19 has shot up even higher. As of today, Wednesday, April 1, Belgium has approximately 14,000 confirmed COVID cases and more than 800 deaths, according to the US Embassy in Brussels. The actual number of infected people is likely much higher, because, as in the United States, testing for COVID-19 has been limited in Belgium due to a lack of test kits. One thing to note: EMS terminology is different everywhere, so you may hear some terms that are different than what you’d used to.
This is the third COVID-19 podcast we have released since mid-March. NFPA Journal Podcast will have two additional episodes coming in April, both exploring aspects of the Coronavirus pandemic and its impact on responders in communities. The next episode, which will publish Tuesday, April 7, will look at crisis standards of care in the United States. You will hear from emergency response and EMS experts from around the country and at NFPA discuss important changes being considered and implemented now to brace for the huge expanse in call volume related to COVID-19. The Tuesday, April 21, NFPA Journal Podcast episode will explore how communities and businesses have used emergency planning and risk reduction to try to blunt the impacts of the outbreak.
Listen to these and others, and subscribe to NFPA Journal Podcast on Apple, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.