In the battle against coronavirus, first responders are stocking up on the tools they need to stay safe, including personal protective equipment and ultraviolet lights that zap the potentially deadly COVID-19.
Upper Pine Fire Protection District began using two portable ultraviolet lighting devices, which cost about $6,000 total, to disinfect ambulances and fire stations. Durango Fire Protection District has an ultraviolet lamp coming soon.
The germicidal ultraviolet technology, made by EvergreenUV of Memphis, Tennessee, is one way to provide extra security to emergency responders when other equipment is in short supply.
“There’s a personal protective equipment shortage everywhere,” said Bruce Evans, Upper Pine fire chief. “It’s difficult, not impossible, but it is difficult (to get supplies).”
Responders wear personal protective equipment, like Tyvek suits, eye-protection and N95 masks, when they respond to a call in which the patient expresses virus-related symptoms.
Since they regularly engage with members of the public and live in close quarters while on shift, they are vulnerable to the virus’s transmission.
“There’s not an unlimited supply of first responders,” Evans said. “We have to stay healthy and stay protected so that we’re available to answer the call.”
Evans said the district has sufficient, but limited, personal protective equipment supplies. Durango Fire Protection District Chief Hal Doughty also said his district had a good stockpile of personal protective equipment – as long as COVID-19 patient contact doesn’t increase.
“‘Enough’ is a minute-by-minute definition,” Doughty said. “The thing we’re actually really struggling with most is the simple patient masks. ... I think every EMS agency is probably going through the same things we are.”
The districts are also practicing social distancing measures while at work and seeing patients. For example, Upper Pine employees are telecommuting, and station crews are isolated from each other to limit the virus’ spread within the district.
The districts could get some relief from worries over personal protective equipment. The Colorado State Emergency Operations Center and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment began shipping supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile across Colorado on Monday.
In the meantime, both districts turned to the germicidal ultraviolet technology to enhance their sanitation procedures.
One of the primary ways the novel coronavirus spreads from person to person is through viral respiratory droplets emitted when a person breathes, coughs or sneezes.
The droplets can spread up to 10 feet from the patient – about the size of an average bedroom and larger than the back of an ambulance, Evans said.
“Essentially, you’re walking into a totally hazardous environment,” he said.
The germicidal ultraviolet lighting system emits specific wavelengths, 253.7 nanometers, that break the DNA of germs contained in tiny airborne droplets. Once the DNA of the viral microbe breaks, it loses its ability to reproduce, rendering it harmless.
If emergency responders transport a COVID-19 patient in an ambulance, that ambulance is out of commission for up to an hour while it is being sanitized. With the germicidal light, the ambulance is disinfected in five minutes, Evans said.
If the virus makes its way into the dormitories, it could impact an entire crew. The districts will use the ultraviolet lights to decontaminate fire station dormitories and add extra security to the personal protective equipment.
“This is just another layer of disinfection to complement the bleach solutions and other cleaning processes we routinely go through,” Evans said.
The technology has been used in hospitals, clinics, laboratories and industry for more than 50 years, according to an Upper Pine news release. It has been successfully used against measles, tuberculosis, influenza and the coronavirus.
Upper Pine also added the technology to a new ambulance, which will arrive in June.
The districts were proactive in ordering the technology early: The demand for ultraviolet light technology, and its price, spiked since the onset of COVID-19, Evans said.
Said Doughty: “We ordered it a month ago at the very onset of this thing. I doubt if you could get one now if you wanted one.”