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'They're not in our shoes' | San Joaquin County firefighters calling for coronavirus pre-screening

San Joaquin County EMS Agency disagreed with the request, and instead advised fire crews to "take all necessary precautions"

STOCKTON, Calif. — An N-95 type mask, gown, goggles and more are the tools of the trade, when it comes to first responders trying to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

"We've not experienced any [COVID-19] cases in Tracy that we're aware of. However, we always take universal precautions when we treat patients," said Tracy Fire Department Deputy Chief David Brammell.

But on call out's, firefighters in San Joaquin County want those precautions to go a step further.

Firefighter unions want dispatchers to pre-screen callers who may have respiratory difficulties, so that first responders can gear up and be protected. It would leave them a better idea of what they're facing when arriving on scene.

The request comes in the wake of three Rocklin firefighters who were exposed to a patient in Placer County. That patient died from COVID-19 one week ago.

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"All we're asking for is for the county to give the OK to ask these questions. Like I said, 15 to 30 seconds more to ask the detailed questions on could this be possibly a coronavirus call," said Mario Gardea, President, Stockton Firefighters Local 456.

As for San Joaquin County EMS, their take is different.

In a letter to the Stockton Firefighters Union Local 456 dated March 11, EMS is not in agreement to pre-screen emergency medical dispatch calls for coronavirus.

Instead, they advise firefighters to "take all necessary precautions with full PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] when attending to any patient presenting with signs and symptoms of a respiratory illness."

That isn't sitting well with firefighters.

"They're not in our shoes. They're not running the calls that we are. They see them in more of a hospital setting," said Gardea.

"Instead of discovering that before we arrive, we're simply asking for pre-arrival instructions that may give us that information before we make entry into that person's home," added Bramell.

We reached out to the San Joaquin County EMS Agency, but we were told the director was unavailable.

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