BY: RAY KING

Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell said Wednesday that firefighters are modifying some of the events they respond to as a result of the COVID-19 virus. Speaking during a meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, Howell said this is being done in an effort to minimize contact as much as possible.

Specifically, Howell said less critical calls, where firefighters responded to back up ambulance personnel are being screened a little closer and if they are not needed, firefighters won’t respond. He said firefighters have the ability to talk to ambulance services dispatchers directly to find out if they will be needed.

In response to a question, Howell said that no firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19 but in the event it is necessary to self-quarantine, fire stations are big enough that the firefighter who tested positive could go to one part of the building while replacements could work in another.

Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant said there have been no issues with department personnel and at a staff meeting last week, he said he made it clear that in a situation like the current one, “It’s all hands on deck.”

He also said the department is evaluating calls to see if some of them can be taken by telephone rather than sending an officer.

Emergency Ambulance Service Inc., CEO Josh Bishop said his dispatchers are asking callers a series of questions that will determine how emergency personnel will respond, specifically to callers who complain of coughing, shortness of breath, and the like.

Specifically, he said the caller is asked if they or a family member have been in contact with anyone who has possibly been exposed to COVID-19 or in contact with someone who have traveled outside the United States, County or city in the last 14 days.

Bishop also said ambulance personnel get their temperatures taken daily, not only when they arrive for work but whenever they get out at the hospital, a nursing home, etc.