(TNS) — Without a doubt, the last few months of our lives have been some of the most uncomfortable and uncertain periods many of us have ever navigated as it relates to our families, work, and life in general. As we move into different phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lake Travis Fire Rescue prepares to balance the demands of the normal fire and tropical storm seasons while receiving gubernatorial orders to begin serving as COVID-19 testers for licensed nursing home’s residents and staff.
By most predictions, the state’s fire season appears to be leaning towards being a moderately busy fire season with a string of lightning ignitions already identified in portions of rural Texas just last week. Focusing on Central Texas, the area could see an average to slightly above average wet month, but may dry out mid- to late-July leading to increased wildfire concerns.
In addition to the love-hate relationship of wet periods leading to vegetation (fire fuel load) growth followed by periods of significant dry/low relative humidity, Texas fire crews will be busy with both wildfires and flooding in some regions as the tropical storm season is also approaching.
Balancing the demands for responses with the challenges of managing day-to-day operations relating to COVID-19 has required a great deal of planning and logistical resources. On May 13, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered licensed nursing home facilities, jails and meat processing plants to conduct COVID-19 testing on all residents and employees. Texas Emergency Manager Nim Kidd ordered all fire departments to be the first line of COVID-19 testers and facility assessors until more long-term plans and arrangements can be made. While LTFR’s district does not include large jails or meat processing plants, it is home to a number of licensed nursing homes. LTFR firefighter/paramedics are working with Austin Public Health and Travis County Emergency Services to develop testing plans and schedules to meet Abbott’s request that the testing is complete within two weeks.
With the phased “back-to-business” orders ranging in various forms from May 18 to June 15, LTFR is continually modifying its operations to assist businesses that are choosing to reopen under the alternative occupancy ratings while keeping our employees safe. While not a perfect science, LTFR relies heavily on health department data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and benchmarking to adjust its operations.
As necessity often drives innovation, LTFR has found a number of ways to respond to COVID-19 concerns, obtained medical director approval to use pediatric airway devices for adult patients when appropriate, and has turned to teleconference as its main form of internal department communication.
By its very nature and traditions, the fire service, in general, can be locked in its ways of doing business and is not necessary known for mastering the art of the quick pivot. Thankfully, the Lake Travis community has come to require that LTFR is the opposite of an archaic fire agency and capable of being able to adapt to demands as they are changing. LTFR is not aiming to return back to exactly the way we have done things before the pandemic. Just as many of our local businesses and community organizations are doing, we are using this time to examine our day-to-day operations and ask the tough questions of what is working, what needs to stay, and what can we can live without in an effort to streamline processes and continue to remain adaptable for the next challenge we face and what our new normal will be.
LTFR stands ready to assist business owners and residents with free consultation on matters relating to emergency response, fire code enforcement, and COVID-19. Contact us at https://www.ltfr.org/contact-us and a LTFR representative will get back to you.
Robert Abbott is the Lake Travis Fire Rescue chief.
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