MIDDLE RIVER, Md (WMAR) — COVID-19 cases in Maryland continue to skyrocket and as of Monday, 2,746 people are hospitalized with the virus.
Not only is it overwhelming hospitals, but it's impacting fire and EMS operations.
"We've noticed an increase call volume in EMS, primarily patients who believe they are experiencing symptoms of COVID," said Shannon Stallings, chief of the Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Department.
Sometimes, ambulances are waiting at the ER with a patient for hours because there are no beds available. That entire time, they can’t respond to other calls.
To help free them up, as of New Years, Baltimore County is allowing non-life threatening patients to be transported by fire truck or other non-ambulance type of vehicle.
"Perhaps they have fallen in the snow today, they have a wrist injury. Do they need an ambulance transport of the hospital? Not necessarily but they may not have another way to get there," said Stallings. "It’s a great strategy because, particularly with volunteers like us, we don’t have to put a fire engine out of service to do that. We have a 4-wheel drive vehicle that we can run around in, or a 2-wheel drive vehicle we can run around in, relieve an ambulance, relieve a fire engine on scene so they can stay available for the house fire or the person who’s trapped somewhere."
Stallings said the vehicles are equipped with a trained EMT and basic life support, including cardiac defibrillators, bleeding and bandaging equipment, basic pharmaceuticals and oxygen.
He said in the past, it wasn't uncommon for fire trucks to be used for high priority patients when they are close to a hospital, instead of waiting for an ambulance.
"What’s different this time around is we’re seeing our suppression units potentially transporting low priority patient just to reduce some of the volume on the ambulance," said Stallings.
To further reduce the strain on ambulances, the Sykesville-Freedom District Fire Department is calling on people to be smart about why they’re calling 911.
"See if you can’t contact your primary care physician. If not, go to an urgent care, but you want to use 911 as a last resort," said Bill Rehkopf, spokesman for the department.
Baltimore City and Harford County fire departments are also spreading the message that calling 911 does not get you seen faster in the ER.