Graham Kilmer

First Responders React To Supply Shortage, Change Operations

Police officers and firefighters are having trouble accessing the personal protective equipment they need.

By - Mar 20th, 2020 06:24 pm
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Members of the Fire Department and Police Department respond to a car accident, not all wearing personal protective equipment. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Members of the Fire Department and Police Department respond to a car accident, not all wearing personal protective equipment. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Law enforcement agencies and fire departments in Milwaukee County are modifying their operations and dealing with a lack of personal protective equipment as they respond to the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic.

As first responders and health care workers continue to shoulder the weight of the pandemic, the resounding message of government and public health officials is that everyone needs to stay in their home unless it is absolutely essential to their wellbeing that they leave. 

The number of confirmed cases continues to rise. Milwaukee County currently has 95 confirmed cases (up from the 85 reported by the state at 2 p.m. today). If citizens want to help first responders, the best way they can is to stay home, law enforcement leaders said in a Friday afternoon media briefing. Mayor Tom Barrett underscored that in his remarks, “You are safer at home.”

Milwaukee Police Department Chief Alfonso Morales said the department has closed the forensics and open records divisions to the public. Anyone wishing to file an open records request can do so online, he added.

Morales asked city residents to avoid going to their local district stations unless absolutely necessary in order to limit contact and maintain social distancing. He said they can still call their local stations.

Milwaukee Fire Department Chief Mark Rohlfing said his department ceased all non-emergency activities, and that they have changed procedures for responding to medical calls in order to limit exposure to the virus.

“Every time we go on a medical run we have a possible exposure. We’re making sure we limit our exposure by how many firefighters actually go in and talk to the patient,” Rohlfing said. They are also sending firefighters with protective equipment if the patient describes known COVID-19 symptoms, like a high fever and upper respiratory distress.

The Milwaukee County Jail has taken steps to ensure that everyone incarcerated there is in a cell by themself, Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas said. They did this by moving some individuals to the house of corrections. Also, they are no longer receiving misdemeanor arrests in the county jail. They are asking municipalities to book them at their respective facilities.

The shortage of testing supplies, reagents and vital personal protective equipment continues to be a major problem in Milwaukee County, the state and the entire U.S. Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services for Milwaukee County, said they’ve been coordinating with health care providers, which are, “increasingly focusing on ensuring adequate resources for acutely ill patients, and healthcare workers so they can continue to serve the most seriously aflicted and ill and vulnerable people now and in the days to come.”

So as not to overwhelm the healthcare system, public health and government officials ask that you stay home and quarantine, even if you are experiencing mild symptoms.

“Unless you’re experiencing shortness of breath, it’s not a medical emergency,” said Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik.

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