CLAREMORE, Okla. — Their mission is still to serve and protect, but their methods just got more complicated.
Claremore's police and fire departments said they're having to take things on a case by case basis, but that they're doing everything they can to limit exposure to COVID-19.
"Bottom line is, if someone needs us, we're still here," said Officer Brian Burnett. "But for our safety, and for theirs, we're trying to limit the face-to-face interactions when it's feasible."
He said CPD is urging the community to conduct business via the telephone rather than coming into the department, whenever possible.
"We're asking people to call on things they can. If we require a written statement, they can email those in. Obviously this won't apply to every case, but we're trying to limit that exposure," Burnett said, adding that officers will be utilizing social distancing on calls that require their in-person presence.
"We want people to understand that just because your case is handled on the phone, doesn't mean it's less of a priority. Procedurally, it will be just the same," he said.
Burnett said officers are trying to limit the instances they enter someone's residence if it's at all avoidable and asking that anyone who has been sick let them know beforehand so they know what precautions to take.
While officers have protective gear, like Tyvek suits and masks, there's barely enough to go around.
"This protective gear is increasingly difficult to find," he said. "And it's not like we have a special supplier somewhere. Right now we have enough for everyone and we're using it per Center for Disease Control standards."
For example, Burnett said this means the masks can be used five times, but that any chance of exposure means it must be disposed of immediately.
He said they're taking the decontamination of gear seriously as exposure for one officer could be detrimental to the entire department.
"Bottom line, if people need us, we're here. We're still doing our job," Burnett said. "Crime isn't going to stop, and neither can we. We know we could be at risk, but we're trying to do everything we can."
Claremore Fire Chief Sean Douglas said they're in a similar situation.
"What we've done to start with, which is ever-changing, is to: prohibit out-of-town training, stop station tours and visits, curtail non-essential errands to public places, avoid non-essential gatherings of 10 or more people, restrict walk-ins to public areas, continue to maintain attention to cleanliness of the station and equipment," he said.
Douglas said they have a procedure in place for those who think they may have been exposed, a family member may have been exposed, or a patient may have been exposed.
"One of the other things we've done is that we're limiting our EMS responses to what they call priority one calls, which are essentially the life threatening calls," he said. "If they need help, we'll respond but that will help us avoid the not-as-essential calls that we might normally go on but aren't necessary."
Douglas said the shortage of N95 face masks is a nation-wide problem right now and his department isn't immune.
"We typically buy the masks and gloves from a medical supplier but they're out. So we're checking hardware stores, paint stores, and everywhere else to buy stuff and have stuff on hand," Douglas said.
"We're trying to minimize contact. So if we assess someone and we can stay six feet away, they're not in a life-threatening situation. If we have to work on someone we put a mask on the individual, that's the single greatest thing we can do to help protect our people and the second step will be for our guys to wear personal protective equipment."