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Agencies make big changes to protect first responders in frontlines of coronavirus pandemic

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Posted at 5:47 PM, Mar 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-20 17:59:21-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Tampa Bay area police departments and fire stations are taking action to protect first responders. The changes could mean no officer shows up at your door in a non-emergency call like a noise complaint or vandalism.

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For first responders in the front-lines of the coronavirus pandemic, there is one major concern.

“Probably the number one focus right now is protecting the workforce," said Rescue Chief Ian Womack, of St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue. "If we can’t keep our people healthy and in the game then we can’t answer the community’s needs.”

$500,000 worth of protective equipment is on backorder for the agency. Another $800,000 worth has been requested from the county.

“I think the biggest challenge for our people right now is the uncertainty and the rate and speed in which information is changing," said Womack.

Plus, there are now changes in the procedure when someone dials 911. Dispatch will give them a battery of questions about the symptoms related to the coronavirus.

“If they’ve got a fever, if they’ve had any recently developed difficulty in breathing—shortness of breath, any recent developed sore throat," said Womack.

Dispatch will give crews a heads up if someone is at risk of having coronavirus before they even arrive.

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Over at St. Pete PD, you can now report more crimes online. Non-emergency calls are getting screened to see if an officer truly needs to show up in-person.

“If you are a calling and it’s a life-death issue, an urgent issue, we are still going to dispatch an officer to you right away," said Yolanda Fernandez, with St. Pete PD.

Thanks to the cancellation of big city events, the PD is fully staffed. The agency is also canceling roll call to avoid large clustering of officers. The same applies to cruisers.

“It’s one officer per vehicle to minimize any kind of germ," she said.

St. Pete PD says no officers have been in self-quarantine.

“As of this moment, we are good; we’re healthy and full strength. Let’s hope it stays that way," said Fernandez.

At St. Pete Fire & Rescue, 19 employees have stayed in place at home because of exposure, and 12 of them are now back on the job.