First responders are the health workers, nurses, doctors, paramedics, police officers, fire and rescue crews, lifeguards and related staff and volunteers countering COVID-19.
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In Hunter New England there are around 16,000 staff working across 27 hospitals and many local medical centres.
Every working day, first responders can come into direct contact with the virus.
This poses a serious health risk to themselves, their families and their capacity to continue to work and/or volunteer.
NOTA caught up with local lifeguards, and volunteer fire and rescue first responders for some insights into how they are handling these risks.
Megan and Millie are both highly qualified Midcoast Council lifeguards at Bennet’s Beach, Hawks Nest.
During the COVID-19 pandemic and during the April school holidays, their role has shifted to ensuring locals stay safe and maintain social distancing.
Megan informed NOTA, “The beach is closed. You can walk, swim and exercise but no sunbaking or making yourself comfortable, especially in groups. We are coming to the end of a quiet season with a few rescues and only one shark alarm. We are upholding the COVID-19 social distancing requirements to the end of the season.”
Lifeguard Patrols will be operating from 9am until 5pm until Sunday 26 April, the last day of school holidays.
NSW schools will reopen from Monday 27 April, however current state government advice is to keep children home if possible.
Group Captain Jim Wisemantel and Crew Member, Leon Katz (also a plumber), are two of 16 volunteers at the Tea Gardens NSW Fire and Rescue Station.
Leon Katz stated, “Life at the station has changed a fair bit under COVID-19. We can only have four Fire and Rescue volunteers here at any point in time. We have a tag system in place on the wall, so we know how many of us are on duty. Crew members each take a tag from the wall when onsite. The tags are located directly above our hygiene station. Unfortunately, during this time no visitors, including children, are permitted. Hygiene is paramount. We are being continuously updated with information about how to work in this environment. We continue to respond to automatic fire alarms or AFAs, often from local retirement homes. If the calls are from high care facilities we cannot send the whole crew in, just one crew member with appropriate personal protective equipment. Generally, calls have been down which is good. All callers must identify if they have any symptoms or concerns regarding exposure to COVID-19. Fire and Rescue as first responders need to maintain healthy crews.”
By Sandra MURRAY