Members and their families have been asking for more information about the Covid-19 risk for firefighters responding. Below is a general guide developed by our medical response subject matter expert Justin Murtha. This is just a guide. FENZ employees and volunteers are reminded that there is COVID-19 information available on the portal.
If you think your circumstances differ or you have other issues please go the FENZ Covid-19 portal or raise it with your manager and your union representative.
What is Social Distancing and Close Contact?
- While in public always maintain 2 metres or more of distance between yourself and others, this is called social distancing.
- Close contact, as defined by the NZ MOH, is when you are closer than 2 metres for longer than 15 mins to someone who has COVID19 (tested and diagnosed) OR someone who is a suspected COVID19 (they’re symptomatic and/or haven’t received their test result yet). Wearing PPE is your protection. However, if for some reason you are in circumstances where you were not wearing PPE you are to self-isolate as per COVID19 self-isolation. This exposure could be in an office, public location or home type setting. COVID19 is also potentially infectious 48hrs prior to symptoms showing.
Medical Response to Known or Suspected COVID19
- If you respond to a medical incident and have your full pandemic PPE on for the duration of the incident (gloves, glasses, mask and paper overalls), then the risk of transmission is virtually eliminated this is a controlled exposure. This is not classified as a close contact, you were PPE protected. Make sure you Don, Doff and Dispose of your PPE according to FENZ instructions. You do not need to self-isolate.
- In the unlikely event you aren’t wearing PPE (uncontrolled exposure) OR your PPE becomes compromised and you get direct bodily fluid contamination (ie: patients bodily fluid into your eyes/nose/mouth – contaminated exposure) while carrying out resuscitation, whether it’s 15 minutes or not, you have now had a close contact also. The reason for this is that aerosolisation procedures (bag masking, CPR, intubation), along with direct bodily fluid contamination are high risk activities/incidents. You need to follow FENZ and MOH notification procedures and self-isolate as per COVID19 self-isolation (point 3 below).
- Remember to record known or suspected COVID19 response on Safe@Work and inform your manager and union representative.
What is self-isolation?
- There are three different types of self-isolation.
- Government imposed self-isolation of New Zealanders or travellers, who are to remain in their homes/hotels, for four weeks or until isolation is lifted. The only exception is essential workers. As firefighters are essential workers you are allowed to travel to and from work, otherwise all other conditions of self-isolation still apply.
- COVID19 self-isolation - this is when you have been tested and diagnosed with COVID19 (known) or you have symptoms of COVID19 (suspected) and haven’t been tested yet. In both of these cases you are to self-isolate at home for 14 days. Follow FENZ and MOH self-isolation and notification procedures. If you receive a negative test, you can return to work when you are recovered.
- Close Contact COVID19 - this is when you have been in close contact with someone else who is known or suspected to have COVID19. You are to self-isolate for 14 days. Follow FENZ and MOH self-isolation and notification procedures.
What is my bubble?
- Your bubble comprises of those that are around you when you’re in self-isolation. This will be the people you live with. However, you can have an extended bubble if you have a dependent person living nearby that relies heavily on you (ie: elderly parent requiring medical assistance, meals). But try and keep contact to a minimum and use the 2 metre social distancing rule. If there is anyone in the house that is an essential worker, this is further extended to consider their contacts.
- As essential workers firefighters have a second bubble. This is generally the crew you work with. Every attempt should be made to restrict your bubble just to your normal crew and to the one station. However, depending on how this pandemic affects operational numbers there may be circumstances where your work bubble changes or is extended. There is currently planning and discussion underway to prepare for a range of scenarios. Any change to your bubble will only be when absolutely necessary and can only occur with the agreement of the NZPFU.
- Because your firefighter bubble overlaps your home bubble, it’s important to try and keep your family as safe as possible. We do this by always wearing our PPE at incidents and having good personal hygiene practices (washing hands, etc), as well as following all PPE, station/appliance cleaning protocols, hereby reducing the chances of transmission into your home bubble.
What are the Degrees of separation?
- The first degree of separation is when you are the buffer between your home and the fire station. An example of this would be if your partner is at home in COVID19 self-isolation, due to a possible exposure at her/his workplace, then you are the 1st degree of separation between your home and the fire station. You don’t need to self-isolate if your partner is not showing any signs or symptoms or hasn’t received a positive test result back. If your partner starts showing any signs or symptoms, or gets a positive test result, then you must immediately go into self-isolation also (even though you may not be showing any signs and symptoms yourself). This move has created a safe degree of separation between the fire station and your home, as a preventative measure, just in case you were to become symptomatic and infectious later. This is first degree separation.
- The second degree of separation is your remaining crew members. Because you weren’t at work while being symptomatic, they are a second degree away from the original source (your partner) and therefore your crew does not need to go isolation.
Remember, be vigilant, wear your PPE, follow procedures. Because you, other firefighters and your family’s safety and health are important.
Here are some clips with more information on the correct way to clean your hands to prevent the spread of the virus.