Firefighters encounter hazardous situations every day. Whether it’s a raging fire, toxic chemicals, or even a radiological hazard, these first responders walk into environments not knowing what they will encounter – not even what’s in the air that they will be breathing.
This past year, however, firefighters are encountering a new hazard — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Like countless others across the country, the first responders at the Sandwich, Massachusetts, Fire Department are regularly in close contact with SARS-CoV-2 patients – both symptomatic and asymptomatic – and wanted to make sure they were doing everything they could to avoid spreading the virus.
In addition to practicing risk-mitigation strategies like following CDC recommended safety protocols (mask wearing, cleaning, hand washing) and doing rapid individual testing of employees, they investigated using new in-air pathogen surveillance technology to complement their safety procedures.
Environmental and occupational surveillance is key in high transmission risk areas. Collecting air samples in these areas that may contain in-air pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, is proving to be a highly reliable way to help assess a facility’s safety processes and controls.
They tested an in-air pathogen surveillance solution by monitoring the main hallway of the facility for the presence of SARS-CoV-2. The hallway was a space where individual testing was taking place, and they hoped the new technology could help strengthen safety protocol compliance. Officials were concerned about protecting employees and maintaining operational continuity because staff were in constant contact with COVID-19 patients.
Air samples were collected daily, Monday through Friday, over a period of four weeks. After each sample cycle, samples were sent overnight to a partner laboratory. After completion of the program 15 samples were negative and 2 samples were positive for SARS-CoV-2. Immediately after receiving the positive sample results, indicating SARS-CoV-2 was present in the hallway, all individuals were given a rapid antigen test. The results identified that one individual was positive for COVID-19, confirming sampler detection accuracy and complement to individual testing. This also confirmed that PPE and other safety protocols were effective when used properly. This instilled confidence in the first responders that the Fire Department was a safe place to work now that they had a SARS-CoV-2 surveillance system in place.
The results demonstrated that combined with safety protocols, the sampler is an effective in-air surveillance solution that can provide awareness of SARS-CoV-2 presence – enabling facility leadership to take safety precautions.
Ensuring that on-site teams are equipped with the latest technology requires a strategic approach, whether fighting fires, fumes, or an infectious virus.
For more details about the Sandwich Fire Department story, read Amidst a pandemic, first responders find confidence and protection with our in-air pathogen surveillance solution