No coronavirus among Trumbull police, EMS in good shape, chiefs report

TRUMBULL — First responders in town have experienced a bit of role reversal at some emergency scenes recently because the COVID-19 pandemic has forced them to alter their procedures.

“We’ve had the rare opportunity for us to be the ones protecting police and firefighters at scenes,” said EMS Director Leigh Goodman.

Goodman and Police Chief Michael Lombardo both made their 2020-21 budget presentations to the Town Council’s Finance Committee May 7. Though discussions focused primarily on their department’s fiscal shape, their response to conditions brought on by coronavirus invariably crept into every aspect of the discussions.

“We’ve really been changing the way we do business,” Lombardo told Councilman Dawn Cantafio, D-1st District.

For example, Lombardo touted the town’s EMS responders for their efforts at incident scenes, especially at homes where a resident has been confirmed with COVID-19..

“They’ve been telling us, ‘Stay outside. If we need you, we’ll call you. There’s no sense in all of us being exposed’” he said.

As a result of the precautions, Lombardo said, no Trumbull officers have tested positive for the virus. Some have been exposed, but after a short self-quarantine were able to return to work, he said.

As in virtually every other aspect of life, coronavirus has had an effect on the police budget. The Board of Finance, in its review of First Selectman Vicki Tesoro’s 2020-21 budget request, reduced the police department’s new vehicle acquisitions from five to three. The department has received five new vehicles in each of the past four years, he said.

“We realize what’s going on with the pandemic; we’ll deal with it and live with three,” he said.

He cautioned, though, that when the current situation passes, the department would likely seek to make up the number in future years. He pointed out that the department’s oldest vehicles tended to require more maintenance and repairs, although they also generated revenue for the town.

“Many of our cars in the field are at construction sites, where the contractor pays a fee of $25 an hour,” he said. “A lot of those are the Crown Vics (Ford Crown Victoria) that are quite old.”

The older cars are no longer suitable as patrol vehicles, but still perform valuable service in town, he said.

“But they do break,” he said. “The mechanic is really good at fixing them, but it’s something to keep in mind. The costs may go up.”

In other budget news, Lombardo reported that the police department’s overtime budget was running under projections since the school resource officers had been reassigned to patrol because the school buildings are closed. Also few officers are requesting vacation time. That would likely change once things begin to return to pre-virus conditions.

“When society opens back up, it may cost us more later,” he said. “After this pandemic, they’re all going to want to — need to — take a nice vacation with their loved ones.”

Goodman told the committee that EMS was “in good shape so far” dealing with the virus. Although most of the state has been closed down since mid-March, medical responders had been aware of the coming danger since January, she said. The department had divided potential COVID-19 exposure into low, medium and high risk.

“Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as ‘no risk,’” she said. Since January, though, the department had managed to keep all of their coronavirus exposure in the low risk category, she said.

But even though staffers have not gotten sick, EMS is operating with reduced manpower, Goodman said.

“We’ve lost 32 percent of our staff,” she said.

These staff losses are primarily due to ambulance crews being forced to take a leave of absence: Some EMS volunteers and paid staff also work at other medical facilities, and needed to limit their exposure, she explained.

“These are per-diem people, or they work for a vendor, and their full-time job required that there be no potenetial cross-contamination,” she said.

Goodman told Councilman Tony Scinto, R-2nd District, that the reduced staffing had forced more hours on the remaining staff, but the reduced call volume during the pandemic had helped a bit.

“At the beginning, our call volume dropped 30 to 40 percent, and then bounced back through the surge,” she said. “As everything slows, we’re seeing a dip.”

The main concern, Goodman said, is the potential for a second wave of infections as the state began to reopen. The department had a plan for such a situation (which she detailed in executive session) but it could still overwhelm responders.

“A second pandemic wave could be New York-style, where it completely overwhelms the system,” she said.