Seattle Fire Chief on Best Practices from a Coronavirus Epicenter

Since the first positive test of coronavirus in King County, Wash., the Seattle Fire Department has been developing best practices, including information sharing and how to slow the burn rate of personal protective equipment.

by Jim McKay / March 27, 2020
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan stands alone on the viewing deck of the Space Needle, which is closed to visitors, Thursday, March 26, 2020, in Seattle. Durkan later raised a flag that reads "#We Got This Seattle" on the roof of the landmark, and said it is intended to be a symbol of unity and encouragement as the city faces a state-wide stay-at-home mandate and one of the worst outbreaks of the new coronavirus in the U.S. The flag will fly from the Space Needle, which is closed to visitors, for at least several weeks. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) AP
 Seattle Fire Chief on Best Practices from a Coronavirus Epicenter
Since the first positive test of coronavirus in King County, Wash., the Seattle Fire Department has been developing best practices, including information sharing and how to slow the burn rate of personal protective equipment.
 
Seattle firefighters were among the initial first responders to confront the coronavirus when a case was reported in King County on Feb. 28. The Seattle Fire Department has developed some best practices that Fire Chief Harold Scoggins shared on a webinar presented by the FirstNet Authority on March 26.

Scoggins revealed that as of the time of the webinar, the state of Washington had about 2,500 positive coronavirus cases and King County had 1,350. Scoggins said that first case in Kings County, where about 100 have passed away so far, forced the department to make some “quick decisions.”

One of the biggest was sharing information. The department had been following the spread of the virus since about the second week in January, and when it finally hit in King County, the department moved to develop FAQs from which they continue to glean and share information. The FAQs were a way to triage all the questions Scoggins and the department began getting.

Scoggins met with medical professionals to find the answers and then began training that continues today. “We are turning the wheel every four to six days with a new training package,” Scoggins said. During the initial days of the training, the department had Skype meetings for four straight days, where the leadership team would go over situational awareness, what to do in certain situations, and answered medical questions. The sessions were taped so that consistent messages can continue to be conveyed.

“I truly believe sharing information is how we’re going to get better at this,” Scoggins said. “We’ve been walking down this road since the third week of January to get everybody some situational awareness.”

One of the key takeaways over the last few weeks has been the burn rate of personal protective equipment (PPE). Starting out, the department had about 12 weeks of supplies and felt pretty good about it, Scoggins said, but soon realized they would run out unless they slowed the burn rate.

A protocol was developed for calls to send in two fire personnel with complete PPEs into a house or building to assess the situation and the health of the people inside. If the two initial firefighters can solve the situation by themselves, they will do so. If they need additional support, more firefighters with complete PPE will be available.

“The calls kept coming and we realized we weren’t getting supplies in,” Scoggins said. “We knew it was going to continue to spread so we had to make changes to our burn rate.”

Another game-changer was the department and other first responders getting permission from the state to be able to swab patients and conduct their own tests. “We pretty much set up our own testing process,” Scoggins said.

Brian Fennessy, Orange County, Calif., fire chief, was also on the call and shared some of his department’s experiences and best practices. Fennessy said that early on, fire personnel would query potential patients about whether they had traveled to Wuhan, China, and soon began placing surgical masks on all potential patients. They also quickly began donning PPE. Fennessy said there was a reported lapse in some personnel donning complete PPE but that changed quickly when a local positive test was confirmed.

“That information got out pretty quickly -- firefighters being firefighters, they quickly started paying attention,” he said. “Three or four weeks ago we were watching, preparing, then it started to happen close to home. You pay special attention when you have friends calling in sick.”
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