IMPORTANT COVID-19 MESSAGE TO LOCAL 1014 MEMBERS
Brothers and Sisters,
This has been a very trying and intense couple of weeks for Local 1014 members on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. It is a constant challenge to keep communications relevant to the everchanging situation and changing recommendations. We are at a place right now where we can effectively summarize a number of important items as well as provide information, resources, and answers to your questions.
Following a very long Local 1014 Executive Board Meeting, we wanted to take a moment to inform our members that Local 1014 has been working day and night with the Fire Chief, the Board of Supervisor and the LA County Department of Public Health to ensure we have what we need to safely serve our residents and stay safe while we do it.
We are in a true pandemic and the County is under the rule of the Department of Public Health. We are team members but subordinate to the Department of Public Health as we deal with this systemic health crisis. However, the County has included the Department Heads including Chief Osby and the Union Presidents in the daily meetings and decision-making.
Additionally, through our partners in the California Professional Firefighters (CPF), we are working on statewide best practices. We are also working on securing Governor and legislative support for possible presumption, mandate, or Governor’s order that help with protective gear, resources, workers compensation protections, and leave time. At the state level, we are working to address COVID-19 as we addressed pneumonia in general, MRSA and SARS. This is a top priority and we are working on plans to tackle this for our members. We have also partnered with Cal Chiefs as well for a unified front on these issues.
This issue is larger than just the Fire Departments and the Union members. Our efforts are in league with other professionals, healthcare workers, institutional workers, etc. at the County and the State. We are fortunate to have coverage and paychecks as we work through this crisis.
However, we have an inherent risk and need priority to receive and replenish resources. Be patient and know that this will take some time to work through the process. In the immediate, we have agreements to ensure the protection of our members at work, and resources to help when under observation or true quarantine.
Below is the most up-to-date information to help understand where we are and where we are going. Please take the time to read and view all links. We will be also sending information to our homes and families with specific information and messaging to help with coping and reducing anxiety and stress related to first responders and our members.
Take care and be good to each other, get and use good information and facts, limit your time of exposure to news and social media, and please be vigilant in your approach to work as we all do our part to flatten the curve and continue to serve those who need it. It is what we do and our proud profession and we need to take care of ourselves as we do it.
HEALTH AND SAFETY AT WORK
While at work please pay close attention to the EA’s and Union emails that give direction on how to use proper PPE’s while serving our patients. This issue is real and we must aggressively and diligently use the tools and the knowledge to stay safe on the front lines. See the link to review the policies and protocols.
In general, please remember to do the following:
- Place a Mask on the Patients and Consider and 95 masks on you.
- Limit the number of Crew who have direct contact with the patient
- Wear Gowns and Mask and Goggles where Indicated.
- Wash your hands regularly while on calls and at the station
- Maintain Social Distancing while at work
- Clean surfaces at work regularly and often
- Wash clothes and uniforms at work regularly and rotate clothes regularly
- AVOID IBUPROFEN. Preliminary results indicate that there may be a correlation to the use of Ibuprofen and the morbidity rate. Steer clear just in case, doctor’s orders (Kazan).
Our public safety community is a level one priority for PPE’s. The stock is in Long Beach at the Convention Center and LA County IMT is in charge of distribution. We currently do not have a shortage. Our warehouse seems to have some difficulties getting the supplies to the stations. We have a Union Director assigned to work with Chief Robinson to ensure any jams are cleared in getting the equipment to the station level. Please contact Director Jason Green if you are having difficulties getting your supplies and ask in writing through your chain of command. This is the time to ensure all sites and stations have equipment and no hoarding at the warehouse occurs.
WHAT IF I AM EXPOSED?
There are 2 categories of exposed members:
1. You are exposed and or sick at home or through exposure via travel or contact with people in your personal life (this happened in San Jose). Individuals with signs and symptoms prior to coming to work or if indicated by line up exam, should stay home and not come to work to expose others.
2. You have suspected exposure to a COVID-19 Patient. Fill out an exposure report Form 381 for all of these calls. If symptomatic members will be put off on ordered absence with exposure. Members may be on observation status or on true quarantine depending on the symptoms and exposure. If positive results from a test then this will be moved to workers' compensation and “I”.
While all exposures should be reported, even those with symptoms relieved and a Form 381 filled out, not everyone will test or be presumed positive for COVID-19. We are working on more easily accessible testing and criteria to use those tests, but for now, not everyone is eligible nor criteria to be tested.
Things have been changing rapidly from CDC and LA County Department of Health and we are working with them and Dr. Kazan, our Medical Director, to establish best practices and procedures. The latest information is minimum days quarantine for signs and symptoms following possible exposure, and 72-hour symptom-free to return to work regardless of testing. (See attachments for more information)
PEER SUPPORT AND RETURN TO WORK AND UNION HELP
Our LA County Fire Department Labor / Management Peer Support Team is active in contacting our members who have been affected by the COVID-19 Virus. We held a conference call with President Gillotte, Dr. Kazan and the Peer Team Leads, and Peer Retirees. They are equipped with additional information and resources to help our members deal with the anxiety and apprehension associated with this issue and direct them to the right resources to help with needs. They have done a wonderful job. Also, the Union Board had been reaching out to affected members to talk about benefits, health, and safety, as well as logistics for returning to work. Chief Gigi Gonzales is engaged in the procedures for quarantine and return to work as well. Please reach out as well if you need help.
Here are a few general thoughts about coping with this stressful issue we face at work:
- Controlling your stress level- Limit watching and reading of the news. Informed but not obsessive. Over information can be harmful. Especially if you have children. Remember they hear even when they pretend they are not listening, and they watch you for cues on how they should be feeling.
- Add in stress-reducing activities such as exercise, deep breathing, and muscle relaxation practices, meditation, etc.
- Focus on the things you can control. Wash your hands, get the best sleep you can and fuel your body well. Maintain as much of a routine and schedule to the day as you can. We thrive on consistency and boundaries just as much as the kids.
- Make the most of the present time. For many of us being told, we can’t do something is a challenge to do exactly that. Take this ‘forced’ time to slow down, play cards, reconnect with family and friends and have a (phone/video) conversation. Do things that make this a blessing and not a punishment. Be creative and think outside the box!
- Don’t make any significant or impulsive decisions. Everyone is under stress right now. Save the big decisions for when this subsides (and it will).
BENEFIT TIME, ‘S’ VS ‘ZD’ VS ‘I’
- If there is a documented exposure at work and a member becomes symptomatic they will be sent home on ZD (do not forget to fill out a 381). If that sickness develops into COVID-19 the Department will work on changing that to I.
- If a person becomes ill, not due to exposure at work they should stay home on S.
- If a person does not have S time to burn please contact 1014 for assistance.
- The benefit situation is dynamic and even if a member must burn their own S time they may be able to get that time back and changed to ZD or I. The Department/Union is working on solutions.
- Testing for COVID-19 is a 5 day turn around. There is no faster test as of now.
- Even after exposures, a test could be falsely negative until the incubation time passes (2-9 days from with an average of 5 days from exposure).
- People who are asymptomatic are not being tested regardless of possible exposure.
- Only a fraction of the population has been tested for the COVID-19 virus. When more results of those tests become available in the next several days expect a possible exponential uptick in positive tests. The virus is already more spread out than people are aware of. This is not because of an explosion of the virus on any one day, but the result of test availability and results becoming accessible.
- COVID-19 testing is being done at Kaiser, Providence, and UCLA. The County is testing as well but tests are being rationed and County will not test (even first responders) unless they’re symptoms are SEVERE enough for hospitalization.
HOME QUARANTINE VS MONITORING WITHOUT WORK RESTRICTIONS
- To date, the Department has 5 members on home quarantine and 68 currently being monitored with no work restrictions. Expect that number to change. Approximately 10 to 20% of our workforce may become ill. In the event of severe work shortages, the Department has contingency plans. There are different staffing situations that would trigger these plans. We are prepared for any contingency.
- Hotels are not recommended as the hospital staff and other visitors could unknowingly be exposed.
- The Department is working on places to quarantine members but in the meantime, members should begin making contingency plans in the event that they are put on home quarantine. For example, family members stay with other friends or family if the member becomes ill. PLAN NOW. This is especially important if the member has special circumstances at home (i.e, living with elderly, existing medical conditions, and infants under 3 months of age). Note: children over the age of 3 mos. have tolerated this virus very well.
- Surfaces (even paper) can hold the virus for days. It is important to wash your hands regularly as well as all surfaces. Consider wearing gloves when handling things like paper plans that may be handled by many people but not cleaned.
- Grocery shopping may not be an option for folks looking to cook station meals. Alternatives like Door Dash or other food delivery services should be considered. The Department is looking into finding food delivery options to stations with reduced or no fees.
- Notify your chain of command or 1014 if your station has difficulty keeping up on supplies like masks/gowns/goggles/gloves etc.
- When working on a patient the most effective way to protect against exposure is to put a surgical mask on the patient. The next most effective thing to protect the rescuer is to wear an N95 mask and goggles.
- The Department is working on a telemedicine app that will be available on our IPads for patients who want transport to the hospital for COVID-19 testing. Unless the patient is in severe distress we should try to dissuade the patient from overwhelming the system. The telemedicine app will have a person live who will remotely assess the patient and possibly discuss an alternative to transport if deemed unnecessary.
RESOURCES AT WORK - FOOD AND WATER
While our members are at work, we are in competition literally for food and water at the grocery stores. We have raised this issue along with Sheriffs and nurses with the County. They are aware and for normal operations, they are working on agreements with the supermarket chains to establish public safety shopping hours for ON DUTY public safety personnel. Also, they are looking at possible wholesale access to our members ON DUTY. That will take time and requires regional and logistical consideration. We’ll keep you posted but for now, think about best practices and options for the shift:
- Shop before you come in and bring the chow with you.
- Use food delivery services to have groceries delivered.
- Patronize our small and medium business restaurants in our districts.
Most small businesses are waiving the delivery charge and would welcome the business. These are the same citizens that support us. We are supporting small business economic measures at the LA County, State, and Federal levels. Many stations have already begun this practice and even a few firefighter-owned family businesses have reached out to have our folks patronize where possible.
Also, use water filtration systems to put aside clean water as well as maintain your bottled water for emergencies as well. For Emergency Operations, the Department is stocking more MRE’s and prepared to have food and water in emergent conditions for our members for up to 30 days. We hope we never get to that but just in case we are preparing.
STAFFING NOW AND IN AN EMERGENCY FOR DRAWDOWN
Some of you may be asking what will we do if we lose more personnel due to COVID-19. So far, we have fared well with 68 members under observation and 5 on true quarantine, but what if we lost higher percentages of our workforce?
Members of Local 1014 Executive Board and the Department’s Executive Staff headed up by Lew Currier and his team along with Deputy Chief Pena and his staff have been working on a plan with the movement of equipment and personnel including work short and dim and dark stations similar to when we have statewide brush fires and strike teams deployed everywhere. The plan as of now is in draft form but actionable if necessary and is in three tiers of need and drawdown. We are also in talks for trigger points or indicators as to when and where we might need to act either in a region or systemically. We will keep you posted as this develops.
The Department has the right to declare an emergency and under management’s rights enact staffing changes under orders, but if no emergency parameters are met they could violate collective bargaining and MOU structure and be liable for damages. This is a balancing act and, of course, we have a direct relationship and pipeline with the Board of Supervisors so balance is achieved. To the Fire Chief’s credit and the BOS, from the beginning, we have been in the room and at the table as part of the decision-making team and it has been absolutely collaborative.
We will continue to plan and act in a Labor/Management collaboration to yield the best results. There have been many Chiefs in the Field AC or BC level talking about what they heard or were told, and then officers at the Captains level take it back out to the stations. Most of the info was hearsay and not correct or even close. Please look to official EA’s and Union Communications to get the correct information.
For both the Union and the Department, communications have been difficult, due to the fluid situation. We have been sending out emails about every two days via email blast and Facebook, and the Department has sent many EAs as well.
We are working to get more communications distilled into what is pertinent to our members and distributed quickly. I have asked the Chief to do the same on the Department end. Make sure you are looking to EAs, Union email, Union website, and Facebook information, as well as, LA County Department of Public Health and CDC for accurate information and stay away from social media posts with articles and memes and links to other information that may or may not be accurate.
Please take this seriously and as trained professionals in the professional Fire and EMS business. Take care to educate and train to handle our mission with proper PPE and procedures. Do your part both on and off duty to practice social distancing and hygiene to help stop the spread of this virus.
Call the Union or ask your Chain of Command for the resources if exposed or symptomatic instead of relying on social media chat rooms for discussion. We are all in this together and we will help each other not only get through this but also to thrive.