Even in the face of coronavirus, emergency responders are dedicated to answering the call, Florence Fire Chief Jeff Perkins said

"When 911 calls us, we have to respond," Perkins said. "We're just making sure our guys have the proper equipment and gear on as they respond. We are taking extra precautions, but that's all we can do."

Police, fire and ambulance responders, including those in volunteer departments, are keeping a close eye on the COVID-19 virus, and making alterations to their normal daily procedures.

Perkins said they continue to respond to calls while keeping inventory of equipment, at a time when medical supplies are in demand.

"You're looking at gloves, masks, gowns and in some instances goggles," he said. "You want to make sure that you're not exposed to anything.

"This is a trying moment for everybody," he said. "It's a first for everybody as well. But we've got to look out for safety and protect our guys."

Perkins said fire departments have an additional issue in that firefighters live together while on duty.

"After they go on a call, they go back to the station, so we're doing more sanitizing of everything," he said. "Those stations are your homes, and you want to take extra precautions."

He said social distancing is difficult.

"These guys live together, and when they jump in those trucks they have to respond and get in close proximity to each other," Perkins said.

Florence Police Chief Ron Tyler said with so many people staying home, things are relatively calm.

"One of the things we're seeing is call volume is way down," Tyler said. "A lot of people are staying home, so fewer people are out."

The chief said he has received questions regarding enforcement of public health orders. He hopes the public uses common sense so his officers aren't placed in a difficult situation.

"What we're trying to do is work with the health department on any of those," he said. "Regarding groups or gatherings of 25 or more, we want people to voluntarily comply with that."

He said his officers are exercising discretion, and dispatchers are asking callers whether anybody at a call has been sick.

"For continuity of operations, we need to stay healthy all through this, so we are maintaining that social distance on calls and trying to handle things over the phone when we can," Tyler said.

Within the department, they are creating "organizational distancing," he said.

"We're trying to be flexible with our schedules, so that detectives and administrative staff are trying to manage social distance," he said. "We have modified schedules, so we're not all trying to occupy space at the same time. Our standard is we maintain a healthy police force that is able to respond."

Kelly Aday, president of the Colbert County Volunteer Firefighters Association, said fire departments are only running emergency calls, such as motor vehicle crashes and cardiac arrests. They will still respond to calls where an elderly patient has fallen.

"In Colbert County we have stopped responding to medical calls that are not deemed life threatening by the caller when they call the dispatch center," Aday said. "First and foremost, we feel our safety is a priority."

Many volunteer departments to not have sufficient supplies of the proper personal equipment needed to protect themselves on medical calls.

He said the masks and gowns should be going to the local ambulance services, emergency room nurses and other first responders.

Aday is also the chief of the Nitrate City Volunteer Fire Department.

Another factor for his firefighters is their workers compensation insurance will not cover them if they contract the coronavirus. Any claims would have to be covered by the firefighter's personal health insurance coverage.

Colbert County Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Smith their offices have been locked down, and no outside visitors or vendors are being allowed in except in certain circumstances.

They're also doing their best to maintain social distancing for the six E-911 dispatchers. They're sanitizing their equipment and using hand sanitizer to protect themselves.

"Everybody is staying in their own office," he said. "We're not eating around the table as we usually would do."

Bruce Carson, director of Helen Keller EMS, said the Huntsville Hospital System and the Colbert County EMA has provided them with sufficient supplies, including personal protection equipment.

"Obviously, there's more precautions taken now that we know it's out there," Carson said. "We're using an enhanced measure every time we go out."

He said crew members wear a "barrier mask" every time they evaluate a patient to determine if they're exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski

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