So what does a fire department do during the COVID-19 pandemic? Well, during the last 24 hours area departments responded to many emergency medical service (EMS) calls, calls for assistance with downed trees on sparking wires, activated fire alarms and smoke detectors, sounding carbon monoxide alarms, roads blocked by fallen trees, motor vehicle accidents, fires of various natures and service calls across the spectrum. The fire service is the department you call when you are sure of what you have and when you don’t know what is wrong.

Your fire service is a very different agency than even a decade ago. Most modern fire departments are what is known in the parlance of the industry, as an “all hazards” response agency. That means the department has trained and is equipped to respond to and address a multitude of emergencies. Besides the EMS responses, these may include below-grade rescues, high-angle rescues (for example removing a worker from a cell phone tower), hazardous material leaks and spills, animal rescues, ice rescues, water rescues, structural collapse and oh, yes, fires. Vehicle fires, brush fires, chemical fires, house fires and electrical fires all require specialized training and equipment. Add in terrorism responses and the fire service is nearly unrecognizable to that of 50 years ago.

There are very few fire departments that are purely a “fire” department today.

Fire departments in Connecticut normally respond to EMS response requests representing as much or more than 70 percent of their total response profile. Additionally, other responses such as motor vehicle accidents often have an EMS component, requiring firefighters to triage and then treat accident victims.

Many fire services are first responders, meaning they are licensed under the state Office of Emergency Medical Services (OEMS) to provide that first-response medical service. Such departments often require their members to be certified as an Emergency Medical Technician or EMT. These departments usually work in conjunction with an ambulance service, frequently staffed by paramedics and EMTs. The higher certification of these paramedics allows them to provide a greater level of service and provide advanced care in the field.

During this pandemic, the fire service has adapted and evolved quickly to address the many concerns created by the COVID-19 outbreak. Three decades ago, during the AIDS crisis, the concept of “universal precautions” was a byword of first responders. That concept is now the word of the day in all of our EMS responses.

Responders wearing masks, gloves, eye shield or goggles, gowns and booties are common sites. The use of masks by the public is an outgrowth of this. These precautions are meant to protect the responders as well as the patients. Please recognize that should you request a response of first responders, these efforts are to guard against spreading the virus to any of the patients, family or responders present.

May you all stay safe and practice “Universal Awareness.” Wear a mask in public, wash your hands and stay as safe as you can. And when you hear sirens, send a quick thank you to the women and men on the front lines.