WESTFIELD, NJ — Tyvek suits to protect them from COVID-19, an ultraviolet light to scrub ambulances of potential coronavirus contaminants and a heightened awareness when entering long-term care centers are standard protocol for the Westfield Volunteer Rescue Squad these days.

The squad members in Westfield have been regular visitors to the town’s two long term care centers in the town, which have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic and every time they go they do with personal protective equipment.

“With the virus being as widespread and pervasive as it is, you essentially assume that the majority of patients potentially have contracted the virus,” said First Aid Squad President David Sloan.

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That means donning Tyvek suits, masks and gloves, Sloan said, who noted that a call for respiratory distress is always an urgent one and among the most common that the squad receives.

MORE: Make Sure Your Face Covering is Safe: Tips from the Westfield Rescue Squad

As of Friday, the two long-term care centers in town — Genesis HealthCare’s Westfield Center, and Sunrise Senior Living of Westfield — had reported a total of 26 residents dead from COVID-19, according to the state Health Department. The combined number of COVID-19 cases at the centers stood at 21, the state figures shows.

“Respiratory diseases are extremely prevalent whether it be the influenza virus or COVID-19,” Sloan told TAPinto Westfield. “Those are deadly to anyone who has a compromised immune system. You have to be aware of ... how serious it is.”

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During the height of the pandemic, Sloan said, the squad saw up to two-hour wait times in ambulances when bringing people to hospitals. Those wait times, he said, have since decreased. And while the number of calls for respiratory distress during the pandemic increased, other calls largely decreased, Sloan said.

Disinfecting ambulances

One of the most notable measures the squad has taken to help prevent the spread of the virus is the purchase and use an ultraviolet light to disinfect its ambulances.

“We hang it in the rig and for 10 minutes. It is activated and it essentially kills all the viruses and bacteria,” he said. Sloan added that the squad still wipes down the ambulance with the usual sanitizers, such as bleach, as an extra precaution.

The squad has no current members who have tested positive for COVID-19, Sloan said. But it has not been immune from loss to the disease. Longtime dispatcher Candy Jackovino died from COVID-19 recently.

“Everyone is mourning the loss of Candy,” Sloan said. “She was certainly a valued member of the squad she had been with the squad over 10 years.”

May 17 – 23 is National EMS appreciation week. Sloan, however, said Westfield residents have been appreciative of the squad's efforts throughout the entire pandemic.

“The townspeople really acknowledge the volunteerism and sacrifice that we're giving to the community during this current crisis,” he said. “So we're extremely appreciative of that support.”

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh