Jessica Mullin, NRP, PAP, CTP, NYP, works on the frontlines as a paramedic in Bucks County, Pa.

Her husband, Paul, works as a paramedic in New York state. Like many EMS frontline providers, the two have dealt with increased stress levels during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Their shared occupation, however, has allowed the couple to vent about the rigors of working as paramedics during a pandemic, as both know these pressures all too well.

“There’s been a lot more conversation with my husband … especially because he’s someone who understands EMS and what’s happening in the world,” Jessica said.

The pair also have bonded over therapeutic activities, such as cooking.

“I love to cook, it’s very positive,” Paul Mullin said. “You take a blank slate and in 20 minutes you have a meal. It has a genuine, cathartic, positive outcome.”

They also unplug from their jobs by taking small, socially distanced day trips, such as driving up the coast to places like Cape Cod.

The two have worked to create a new normal for themselves. This task has not been easy, however, as both work on the frontlines of COVID-19 as EMS providers.

Ambulance decontamination

To stay safe on the EMS frontlines, standard operating procedures for ambulance decontamination has changed. The task, which used to take about 15 minutes now takes up to 25 minutes. Jessica spends extra time sanitizing high touch points.

“In the front of the truck, you wipe down the dashboard, control panel for the lights, the door handles, steering wheel and shifters,” she said.

Whenever crew members come in contact with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patient, the ambulance receives a full misting with a sprayer.

“Misting is available to us at certain hospitals. Fire department staff does the misting at a hospital decontamination location,” Jessica reported.

When patients test positive for COVID-19

When first responders come in contact with a suspected COVID-19 patient, it’s important they are notified quickly. This helps first responders take timely precautions for themselves and colleagues.

Not all counties and states share patient information in the same way. When we talked to the LA County Fire Department about how they share COVID-19 positive patient information with EMS staff, they said they share information if they have it.

“The biggest hurdle is getting that healthcare information reported to us from other hospitals and skilled nursing facilities,” said Terrence McGregor, NRP, LP, NCEE, Sr. EMS program head for Health Programs COVID-19 Operations, Emergency Medical Services Bureau with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “They don’t always provide us with that information, or in a timely manner.”

When the infectious disease status of patients is suppressed, it puts first responders at greater risk of exposure and disease spread. Failure to report can carry repercussions, McGregor said.

“The healthcare facilities are in violation of the Ryan White Act by not sharing information in a timely manner.”

As for Jessica and Paul Mullin, both noted they receive notifications immediately when patients test positive.

“Where I work, we have a good rapport with the receiving facilities. If they turn around and find out if this person is COVID-19 positive they will tell us,” Paul Mullin said.

He also said all first responders on the call or at the scene of a confirmed COVID-19 case are notified. This includes EMS crew members transporting patients, supervisory staff, the fire department and police officers.

After coming in contact with COVID-19 positive patients, Jessica Mullin’s employer asks each employee to track and report symptoms immediately.

If symptoms arise, she is required to self-quarantine for 14 days, she added.

EMS show bravery on the frontlines

When asked how he feels about the dangers of his job as a first responder, Paul Mullin said this is not his first time working during uncertain times.

“I have gone through pandemics before, H1N1, SARS, and Ebola; plus 9/11,” he said. “This is what I signed on the dotted line for.”

To learn more about the role of EMS on the frontlines of disaster, check out our BLS L-12 course.