First responders need to know all the facts when responding to calls

Responders may show up to call with gloves, eye protective gear and gowns if COVID-19 is suspected.

Responders 1
Mission Fire Chief Eric Makowski Budrow poses on what first responders will look like if responding to a "Level 2" emergency, which would be a medium precaution. Submitted Photo

The coronavirus pandemic continues to spread and everyone around the globe needs to do their part to be safe and protected, emergency response officials said.

That includes telling emergency 911 dispatchers about possible symptoms.

Brainerd lakes area first responders and paramedics, who typically are the first people to have contact with a patient, have extra protocols in place to keep themselves protected and to make sure if a person does have the coronavirus the virus, it does not spread any further.

Pillager Fire Chief Greg Ringler said if his department is paged to a medical call where the patient feels symptoms that could possibly be the coronavirus, they need to tell the 911 dispatchers right away. Dispatchers can relay the information to the responding firefighters and first responder crews so they can prepare before they arrive at the location.

Even emergency responders, though classified as vital services, are not immune from being forced to stay at home if exposed to the coronavirus.


In a March 15 Facebook post, Pillager Fire and Rescue informed residents to tell 911 dispatchers if they’ve experienced any flu-like symptoms.

“We all need to be smart about this & if you don’t inform us, an entire fire department or response team may be quarantined,” the Facebook page stated. “What good does that do for the person who’s in a car accident if nobody shows up for extrication???”

As the coronavirus has been spreading, 911 dispatchers are asking more questions and responders are getting more information before they respond to a call, which is good, Ringler said. He implemented a policy with the Pillager Fire Department that only two people, equipped with masks and eye glass protection, may go into a residence when responding to a medical situation. Upon arrival to the call, responders also will do triage and ask the questions while at the door before entering a residence.

“Obviously if it's a flat out cardiac type of emergency we will go full-bore,” Ringler said. “But for the people who are not feeling well, who are sick, we will do more screening and hold back if we have to and wait for North (Memorial Health Ambulance). ... And we’re going to judge it as we go.”

Ringler said the fire department started having responders wear face masks last year during the flu season as an extra precaution.

Mission Fire Chief Eric Makowski Budrow also has COVID-19 protocols in place. There are three levels of precautions responders take when it comes to the type of equipment and gear they wear when responding to a call. Makowski Budrow said once they have the information from the dispatcher and arrive on scene, if the person has flu-like symptoms, it’s not their job to diagnose it, but rather to treat them until they are in the ambulance and off to the hospital.

“I really want to reiterate that with the threat of this virus and anyone presenting any of the typical symptoms of a fever, cough, fatigue, sore throat and shortness of breath that our response will involve an elevated level of personal protective equipment,” Makowski Budrow said. “When we interact with the patient it may seem we are being distant, but as we conduct our door triage, and then assessment with the patient while still maintaining as much space as appropriate, we are trying to limit our exposure.


“We will be placing a procedural mask/surgical mask on all patients showing signs/symptoms, which may seem extreme, but per North Memorial Health a simple mask on both patient and responders decreases chance of transmission by 80%.”

Mission responders also will conduct the door triage, talking to the patient at the door to get as much information as possible while keeping their distance before rating them.

“Our response may be slower as we will be taking the time to get all the information first,” Makowski Budrow said. “We will maintain some distance and if it becomes where this person matches the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 ... we will switch up our level of personal protection and put on the Tyvek suit or some sort of gown. ... If the dispatcher has already told us it is a suspected case, we’ll immediately respond to the level three (with the gloves, eye protective wear and Tyvek suit).”

County sheriff’s offices also have protocols in place to keep officers and emergency responders protected. Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch and Crow Wing County Sheriff Scott Goddard said their 911 emergency dispatchers are keeping callers on the line longer to gather more information so they can relay as much information to emergency responders as possible. The state sent out a list of specific questions for dispatchers to ask.

“They are expected to follow and be vigilant no matter what,” Burch said of responders and deputies wearing their personal protection equipment.

“Even if we're not dealing with this — I don’t know the right word, the virus — I've told people just continue your daily lives or functions or however you're going to deal with this kind of isolation for a few weeks, but practice good hygiene. If you're around blood borne pathogens or things like that, you should be taking this precaution even if the virus isn't here. There's a lot of other stuff out there that you could attract by being careless and not being vigilant with your personal protective equipment. We would be telling you this any day of the week. ... Everybody is on high alert right now.”

Outside of the 911 calls, Goddard said with the threat posed by COVID-19 people should expect to see changes in the way law enforcement responds. Goddard said calls where a deputy would have driven to the house and talked to the person face to face will change depending on the call. On a case by case basis, deputies may just give the person a call to follow social distancing guidelines and to ensure deputies, as well as the public, stay healthy.


Goddard also reiterated that all the county buildings have implemented plans for social distancing by asking people to work from home if they can and restricting public access. The public may only call or email county officials regarding services. Goddard said they are continuing to monitor and clean the jail and are keeping inmates at a distance from each other.

Goddard said it also is not just COVID-19 but people may be experiencing other sicknesses going around during this time, like the regular flu or stomach illnesses. That is why it is good for everyone to practice good hygiene, he said.

“I agree with the philosophy and that's why we're trying to really get the message out with our public health, with our emergency management directors,” Goddard said. “We know that this is going to continue to be an issue, but we don't want to see that spike. We need to see it plateau and keep the numbers relatively low as they progress because then we can more easily manage it with our health care, with our hospitals, with our first responders or ambulances, law enforcement. It's the spikes that are going to be detrimental to all emergency services. So that's what we've got to try to avoid.”

Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes said if things continue to escalate in the community, the fire department may be asked to assist North Memorial Health and Brainerd Police Department if the agencies become overwhelmed with emergency calls. Holmes said emergency responders are gathering more information before responding and he asks everyone for their patience.

“People are gonna have to understand that and accept that's the way we're going to have to do things for a while,” Holmes said. “We're going to continue to provide them care, but we just also need to look out for the safety of the responders because if they're unable to continue to respond then it makes the crisis even worse.”

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JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at or 218-855-5851. Follow me at on Twitter.


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Mission Fire Chief Eric Makowski Budrow poses on what first responders will look like if responding to a "Level 3" emergency, which would be a high precaution. Submitted Photo

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