Monroe Fire Chief Terry Williams says his department will no longer answer emergency medical services, or EMS, calls during the COVID-19 outbreak because of the risk of exposure to his first responders.
Williams and Mayor Jamie Mayo announced the change earlier this week.
“We’ve decided to suspend all our EMS response,” Williams said. “We will still respond to any fire-related call, any technical rescue call, any automobile accident, especially any automobile accident involving an extrication.”
Firefighters are often certified as an emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic or emergency medical responder (EMR). A brief listen to a first responders’ radio channel would reveal that cardiac arrest is one of the most common calls answered by firefighters. It also is not uncommon for a fire truck to arrive before an ambulance when answering a medical emergency call.
That will not happen anymore in Monroe, though. Williams attributed the decision to his senior staff.
“When we answer EMS calls, we go from house to house to house all day and sometimes all night,” Williams said. “At this time, we don’t have the proper equipment to deal with the pandemic we’re experiencing. Not only are we increasing our exposure to our personnel, but we increase our exposure to the public as well.”
Meanwhile, firefighters with the Ouachita Parish Fire Department and West Monroe Fire Department will continue to answer EMS calls as usual.
“Yes, absolutely,” said Ouachita Parish Fire Chief Patrick “Pat” Hemphill, who referred to Williams’ decision. “I saw that. It doesn’t change what we do.”
West Monroe Fire Chief Todd Smith confirmed his department also would continue to answer EMS calls.
Williams commended Acadian Ambulance, which provides ambulance services in Ouachita Parish, for their work.
“We’re just going to hand it over to Acadian Ambulance,” Williams said. “We have what is a great ambulance service. I feel they are doing an excellent job.”
Randall Mann, Acadian Ambulance Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations, told The Ouachita Citizen that the Monroe Fire Department’s decision did not hinder ambulance services.
“They would respond and we would respond. If they aren’t responding, we still are,” Mann said. “We have 23 ambulances that are available in Monroe. We run concurrently with them. Sometimes we get there first. Sometimes they get there first. It is a compliment to us that Monroe Fire feels confident enough to believe we could handle it.”
Williams said his department could re-evaluate the situation at a later date.
Concerning the COVID-19 outbreak, Mayo said, “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”