Ballston Spa

For Ballston Spa ambulance corps leader, vigilance is key

Community Emergency Corp Deputy Chief of Operations Daryl Clifford stands outside their station in Ballston Spa on Tuesday, December 8, 2020.
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Community Emergency Corp Deputy Chief of Operations Daryl Clifford stands outside their station in Ballston Spa on Tuesday, December 8, 2020.

BALLSTON SPA — Don’t tell Daryl Clifford the COVID-19 pandemic is overblown.

A childhood friend in Buffalo who is hospitalized with COVID just came off a ventilator last week — a 38-year-old with no underlying health problems. And Clifford’s 22-year-old daughter, who lives in Clifton Park, just finished quarantine after experiencing flu-like symptoms and testing positive.

On the job, Clifford is constantly thinking about the novel coronavirus. As deputy chief of operations at the Community Emergency Corps in Ballston Spa, he’s also one of the people in charge of making sure 50 employees of the emergency medical response organization keep themselves safe.

“It’s definitely not overblown,” said Clifford, a 47-year-old paramedic who has worked in emergency response for 30 years, the past five with CEC. He also works one shift a week at the Malta-Stillwater Ambulance Corps. Clifford previously worked at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Emergency Corps.

As the first medical contact for people experiencing illness or trauma, those who serve on ambulance crews have always had to worry about keeping things clean, but the pandemic has heightened their vigilance.

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“It’s made us think more, be more aware of our surroundings. You wear PPE, you wear a mask, you wear gloves, you wear protective clothing,” Clifford said. “We were probably a little lax about that before. It has meant getting back to grassroots and doing all those things.”

He said there are instances now when the ambulance crew will send just one person into a house initially to avoid inadvertently exposing other crew members to someone who may be infectious. Someone in the residence other than the patient could be infected, he noted.

Community Emergency Corps responds to roughly 2,400 calls per year, with three ambulances and a first-response vehicle that go to medical emergencies in the village and surrounding towns. Some of those calls — a growing number in recent weeks — are for people sick with COVID.

“It’s become more prevalent in the last couple of weeks than it was earlier,” Clifford said.

“I think what happens is, people with underlying conditions are getting hit the hardest, people with asthma or breathing problems,” he said.

After each call the ambulance is thoroughly wiped down, and now the emergency corps frequently also uses a device that sprays an antiviral mist inside the ambulance. “We would always wipe down the stretcher after every call. We’re just doing a lot more than we used to,” Clifford said.

At the corps building on Thompson Street, some reclining chairs have been removed from the crew lounge to maintain social distancing and the meeting room has also been reorganized, since large meetings and in-person training are discouraged.

Everything changed in March when the novel coronavirus was first linked to cases in the United States, with New York City taking one of the earliest hits.

Clifford said he and his wife were on a cruise out of New Orleans when the first COVID-19 cases were reported. “We got back to New Orleans and it was like, ‘What’s going on?’ From that point, everything was different.”

He said he “absolutely” worries about getting the virus. Community Emergency Corps has had four or five employees who have had to quarantine after community exposures, and many employees — most of whom are part time — want to work fewer shifts than in the past, so maintaining staffing levels has been tough.

Clifford thinks many of the changes in how ambulance services are operating will be permanent, even if mass vaccinations put an end to the pandemic sometime next year.

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“Wearing a mask on calls, I think that will stick for a while,” Clifford said. “It’s not a big deal. People make it a big deal, but it isn’t.”

Right now, the state Department of Health is mandating masks for ambulance crews, including when a driver and EMT are sitting side-by-side in the vehicle going to a call. “We sort of have to do it, whether we think a mask is a political statement or not. We’re out in public and we have to really set the example for the public,” he said.

It’s also been hard at home, the Halfmoon resident acknowledged.

“Me and my wife, we pretty much don’t do anything now,” he said. “I think you learn more about what family is all about. You want to keep them close.”

That said, though, he hasn’t been able to see his mother in Buffalo — she’s in her 70s, with health issues — in 10 months.

“It’s been hard on her. It’s been hard on us,” he said. “Thank God for online technology. We were able to do a Zoom Thanksgiving. I have a large family with a lot of cousins, and we were able to Zoom for Thanksgiving.”

Categories: News, Saratoga County

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