Miami Beach Fire forms first COVID-19 unit to protect responders with hazmat suits

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Miami Beach Fire and Rescue has formed the first COVID-19 response unit in South Florida, assembling a team of firefighters and paramedics dedicated solely to 911 calls involving suspected coronavirus patients.

In order to protect their own safety, first responders deploy in a complete bodysuit, complete with a mask and gloves, and boot covers. Every zipper on the suit, as well as the person’s wrists and ankles, are taped tightly to prevent any skin from being exposed to the outside.

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“We have a group of men and women that understand they signed up to help others, and when we sign up to help others, there are no “except fors” and so we are in the middle of a tremendous challenge,” Miami Beach Fire Department Chief Virgil Fernandez told Fox News.

“The first thing that crossed my mind was I want to be part of that team, but I knew I needed to run that by my wife,” Marcio Bueno, a member of the Miami Beach COVID-19 Response Unit, told Fox News. “I have a 10-year-old, a 2-year-old and a newborn, and she was apprehensive and said what if you bring it home and infect me and the kids.”

The unit is based at Mount Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach. According to the protocol, the inside of the ambulance, including all medical equipment, is thoroughly sanitized before and after responding to each call. The crew begins their response by completely suiting up at the hospital and driving directly to the person’s home or apartment. The unit also must directly return to the hospital to bring the patient to a special quarantine room should they warrant emergency medical treatment.

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“Whenever we get a Covid call, we practice social distance,” Derik Lewis, a member of the Miami Beach COVID-19 unit, told Fox News. “When we get there, we practice door triage and we don’t get as up close as we normally would.”

The Miami Beach Fire Department said the COVID-19 response unit gets about eight calls a night. As of Wednesday morning, Florida recorded 1,467 confirmed cases, with 23 deaths from the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Miami Beach became the first city in South Florida to order all its residents to shelter in place in their homes starting Tuesday just before midnight until further notice. All non-essential travel is banned in the city, with some exceptions for trips to the grocery store, pharmacy or the hospital.

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“Additionally, residents may engage in outdoor recreational activities, but not in those places that have already been closed to the public under the existing emergency order, such as City of Miami parks,” the emergency order said. “When outdoors exercising, residents must practice social distancing measures at all times.”

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