Eight members of the Hinesburg Volunteer Fire Department and First Response have been placed in isolation after a patient treated as a medical assist later tested positive for COVID-19, officials said.
The eight members are part-way through a 14-day observation period, Hinesburg Fire Chief Al Barber said.
“All are doing well,” Barber told The Citizen. “They are isolated in their houses. The Health Department (officials) are watching them.”
The loss of eight members for at least two weeks has put a slight dent into the volunteer department, which also serves the town of St. George. Barber said the department has 48 members on its roster, including 20 volunteers that respond to emergency medical service calls.
Details of the positive COVID-19 incident surfaced earlier this week, both on social media and in the community among neighbors.
The woman is a well-known community member, but The Citizen has opted not to identity her by name for her privacy. The newspaper also is not providing her age or the street address of the emergency call even though they are public record.
It may have been her being well-known in Hinesburg that caused emergency first responders not to wear full protective gear, Barber acknowledged. There had been other recent medical responses to her residence by Hinesburg Fire and by St. Michael’s College Rescue.
Barber said there was no indication of sickness or anything wrong with the woman in the days leading up to the latest call. Later COVID-19 was confirmed, he said.
“It’s one of those crazy things. Nobody realized how much it can hide on you,” the chief said.
Barber said the Hinesburg Fire Department and First Response are now required to use maximum protection for every service request no matter the nature of the call.
That means face shields, rubber gloves and protective suits with boots and hoods, he said.
Hinesburg Police Chief Anthony Cambridge confirmed two officers responded to a call for a “welfare check” at the residence March 27. The chief said the police officers, wearing proper protective gear, found the woman in need of medical care and alerted Hinesburg First Response.
The two police officers left while the First Responders and the Williston Fire Department Ambulance dealt with the patient and eventually she was transported to the University of Vermont Medical Center, officials said.
By March 31 the word came down the patient had tested positive for COVID-19 and the volunteers from the emergency response squad were ordered into isolation at their homes, Barber said.
The ambulance crew from the Williston Fire Department was not impacted, Fire Chief Ken Morton said. He said several weeks ago his department required public safety responders to put on protective gear, including gloves, shields and suits with boots and hoods.
Morton said the gear is critical because the town has six senior living complexes and three have had reports of COVID-19 cases.
Hinesburg members had been to the woman’s home in recent days to assist with the lifting of the ambulance gurney when St. Michael’s College Rescue was called for help. Investigation revealed the St. Michael’s crews had used protective gear, Barber said.
Chief Cambridge said it has been standard protocol for his police officers to wear protective gear when responding to all calls for assistance. The officers also try to use proper social distancing whenever possible, but on some calls that is difficult.
Barber said he had heard of at least one other case of a first responder on a nearby department being exposed to COVID-19 while dealing with a cardiac arrest case.