The Balancing Act

Before the pandemic, most first responders wouldn’t have thought twice before charging into a burning building or rushing to treat a patient in critical condition. But with the ever-present threat of COVID-19, such bravery could easily do more harm than good if it resulted in the spread of the virus. Suddenly, responding to a call doesn’t just mean putting oneself at risk, but also one’s family, coworkers, and anyone else they could come in contact with. For first responders, COVID-19 came with an added challenge of balancing safety and duty.

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WFD responds to a house fire call in late January 2021.

Of course, the first step for the first response community was the development of new protocols—including PPE, limited contact, and mandatory disinfection procedures, among many others. These new practices, termed the COVID-19 “Rules of Engagement,” sought to strike a balance between the safety of first responders and those they serve on the scene of a call.

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WFD’s trained technical rescue team aids a man pinned by concrete blocks on May 8, 2021.

These new rules came with their own set of anxieties. In an interview with Telegram & Gazette, paramedic Ron Gigliotti recounts the “mental marathon” that sets in after he hears one of his patients has tested positive for COVID-19: “He begins to back track, asking himself about everything he may have touched and what particular equipment like a stethoscope he may have used with the patient and had he cleaned it; and who the people were that he had come in contact with during that time.” 

Such anxieties were far from unfounded. Since early 2020, first responders put their lives on the line to continue their duties with the added risk of contracting COVID-19. Close to home, Worcester felt the impact on the first responder community with the passing of Rutland Police Department’s own Detective John Songy on May 29, 2020, after a courageous and well-fought battle against the coronavirus. Prior to his death, the community banded together to motivate Detective Songy to stay strong with a 1,000-car motor parade. His passing is a sad reminder of the risks taken by the first responder community of Worcester throughout this year and the costs of balancing the protection of the community and oneself.

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Detective Songy honored with the lowering of the American Flag.

The Balancing Act