BURRILLVILLE – Norman “Chip” Mainville has been in the fire service long enough to remember when personal protective equipment like masks and gloves were stuffed out of sight in an ambulance compartment, rarely used by emergency medical technicians responding to a traumatic scene.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years and this is the first time I’ve had to gown up and wear masks and gloves on an emergency call,” says Mainville, a fire captain and EMT for the Harrisville Fire Department. “It’s standard equipment now.”
EMTs and paramedics are among the frontline healthcare workers responding to patients with the deadly coronavirus, a situation Mainville would have never imagined when he became a full-time firefighter in 2001.
“There’s definitely a much higher level of of awareness for personal safety now and after seven weeks, we’re starting to get use to the idea of all of this PPE (personal protective equipment),” he says.
This week (May 17-23) is the 46th annual observance of National EMS Week. The 2020 EMS Week theme is “Ready Today. Preparing for Tomorrow,” which is particularly meaningful now with EMS professionals on the frontlines of the crisis everyday.
Harrisville Fire Chief Michael Gingell said this year, it’s especially important to recognize the service of EMTs, many of whom are helping in the fight against the novel coronavirus.
“Our EMTs are on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic while still responding to the everyday emergencies that are happening in our communities,” he said.
National EMS Week dates back to 1974, when President Gerald Ford authorized a special commemoration celebrating the essential work EMS providers perform in the nation’s communities every day. The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) partners with the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) to lead EMS Week activities each year.
“The 2020 theme ‘Ready Today. Preparing for Tomorrow’ reflects what individual EMS professionals and organizations do every day as they respond to calls for help at any time and in any place,” explains NAEMT President Matt Zavadsky. “The EMT and paramedic care of tomorrow will continue to expand into services that include community para-medicine, injury and illness prevention training, and CPR and bleeding control education.”
Gingell said EMTs in a volunteer/ combination fire department like Harrisville are supported by fire department members who are well trained first responders that assist EMT`S with life saving skills such as CPR , vehicle extrication and driving the EMS Emergency medical vehicles .
“There is great cooperation and support in the EMS community between members of the Northern Rhode Island Firefighters League and Greater Woonsocket Fire Chiefs Association,” he said.
Mainville, 46, the son of former Burrillville Town Councilman Norman “Chuck” Mainville, became a volunteer junior firefighter for the Harrisville Fire Department in 1988. He received his EMT certification in 1991, the same year he graduated from Burrillville High School. He became a full-time firefighter for the department in 2001.
He has also been the assistant deputy state fire marshal since 2002. Last year, he was named EMS Professional of the Year for 2019 by the Rhode Island Department of Health.
Burrillville has had more than 80 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the outbreak began and Mainville has been on at least a half dozen calls to respond to COVID-19 patients.
The Harrisville Fire Department has 21 emergency management technicians, including eight career EMTs, eight per diem and the rest volunteers.
He says he and his fellow EMTs have adapted quickly to the new protective equipment and sanitation protocols since the outbreak began.
“EMS services at Rhode Island Department of Health have really done a fantastic job of supporting EMTs on the street,” he says.
Mainville says his biggest fear is bringing the virus home to his family, which includes his wife, Renee, and three daughters, Kaitlyn, 14, Alyssa, 12, and Natylee, 9.
“My wife and kids didn’t sign up for this,” he says.
He says the department works around the clock to disinfect and sanitize trucks and equipment; wash clothing and uniforms (the department recently received a brand new washer and dryer donated by Lowe’s Home Improvement in North Smithfield); and take other protective measures when they got home to their families.
“When I became an EMT in 1991 I never would have imagined that we would be doing the things we’re doing now,” he says. “I think this change is permanent and that all future EMTs will be much more knowledgeable about infectious diseases because it will most likely be part of their training and certification. It’s the new reality.”
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