COVID Chronicles: Firefighter Scott Robinson

We're checking in with Rhode Islanders from all walks of life to see how they're doing amidst the coronavirus outbreak.

Photo by Michael Cevoli

Firefighter, EMT-C, union head, behavioral health guru: Scott Robinson does it all. (In case you missed it: Robinson’s work on mental health in the fire service was featured in our February 2020 story, “The Things They Carry.”) Now, he’s on the frontlines of the coronavirus epidemic in Cranston, a hotspot for positive cases. We caught up with Robinson to see how his work has changed since the start of the outbreak.

Rhode Island Monthly: First off, how have you been doing?
Scott Robinson: I’m doing well. I think our training as first responders — operating in “go mode” and being able to adapt to ever changing environments — has definitely helped me and my brothers and sisters continue to work and be focused on the present situation and not get caught up in “what if” scenarios.

RIM: How have things been at the firehouse? I heard some folks had to quarantine.
SR: We have two firefighters quarantined out of an abundance of caution because they responded for a person injured after a fall who tested positive for COVID. They are doing great and should return this week. And we had two firefighters who were traveling home from outside the country when this all broke so they self-quarantined. They are both back to work. The firehouse is the firehouse. But there definitely is an air of uncertainty and worry from the firefighters. There is an underlying worry with all of us that we will unwittingly carry the virus home to our families.

RIM: How has the job changed in the last two weeks?
SR: We have been very conscious of checking for signs and symptoms at the beginning and end of shifts, we have reduced staffing on three fire engines so we may staff two additional ambulances. We want to reduce the workload of our EMS division to help with the increased mental and physical fatigue of dealing with this pandemic. We need to have time to spend additional time on scene so we can assess patients for COVID and contact medical control in the event the patient wishes to stay home. We also need additional time to decontaminate the rescues we transport suspected COVID patients to ERs. The additional ambulances will give us this opportunity.

RIM: Is the outbreak affecting your work on behavioral health? Are your [behavioral health] peers fielding more queries?
SR: The only affect the pandemic is having on our behavioral health network is that it is driving the outreach we do to address the affects it could have on members. Education on anxiety, grief coping skills, education for how members can talk to their children about their job and how while some families are all quarantined together, their firefighter mom or dad has to leave and go to work in the environment everyone in the world is worried about. Also we are providing resources for our spouses on how to be a “single parent” during this time. It is extremely tough to be the sole person at home having to take care of the household, homeschool and find time to take care of themselves while we are at work.

RIM: What guidance can you offer for people who might be struggling with anxiety, depression or other behavioral health issues right now?
What we tell our firefighters is to:

  1. Use common sense precaution when it comes to the virus: social distance, practice good hygiene, stay home if you’re sick or not feeling well.
  2. Find trusted sources for information about the virus, like the CDC or Dept of Health. Then stay with that source.
  3.  Set limits on network news, social media or the Internet. Give yourself fifteen minutes of exposure one time a day
  4. Stay connected to family and friends via text or video chat or talking on the phone to help combat isolation anxiety.
  5.  Isolation and unstructured time fosters negative thoughts and rumination about wha TSS happening out there. Find activities that distract you like reading or games, even video games on the phone etc.
  6.  Find something that relaxes you. A walk in nature, a bath or petting your dog. You need to practice something that helps deescalate your nervous system.
  7. Limit your exposure to negative people or people that trigger your anxiety. They can act like a contagion and may cause you to feel the same way.
  8. Rake the yard or sweep the garage or go for a walk. Give yourself thirty minutes to get your heart rate pumping to move the negative chemicals that are related to adrenaline that gets dumped when you get anxious.

RIM: How can the general public support you and the firefighting community right now?
The best way to support us is to only call if it is an emergency, and when you do call tell the dispatcher what symptoms you are experiencing.