BUCKEYE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Two West Valley fire departments are teaming up to create a special coronavirus response unit.
"We came together to look for a solution to a problem we've never been presented with before," said Buckeye Fire Chief Bob Costello.
Officials say the partnership between Buckeye Fire Department and Buckeye Valley Fire District is the first of its kind in Arizona.
The response team is assigned to its own ambulance, and is made up of an EMT and Paramedic. The crew works out of its own quarters, responding from a compound separate from any firehouse, to minimize exposure to other first responders.
Both the crew and ambulance undergo a special decontamination process after calls. "We're gonna protect our personnel and the public in the best way that we can," Chief Costello said.
Starting Monday, the coronavirus response team is ready to respond to suspected coronavirus cases 24 hours a day in the Buckeye area.
Members of the team go to calls decked out in full personal protective equipment. That includes a full bodysuit, masks, gloves, and boot covers to prevent contact with the novel coronavirus.
The two fire departments decided to create the response team because currently, firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics are burning through personal protective equipment, suiting up and treating every call like a COVID-19 incident.
Officials say this will be a more efficient use of that equipment, which is currently in short supply.
The EMTs and paramedics who are working on the team are volunteering for the duty and say it’s an important task, even though it comes with risks.
"it's definitely nerve-wracking. Not gonna lie about that," said said Greg Porto, a Buckeye Valley Fire District Paramedic who volunteered for the unit's first shift. "I have a family of five at home. I did talk to my family about that, about what I was volunteering for what I was going to work for to do."
So far, just one coronavirus response team will be in service. Officials say a second will likely go into service next week, depending on the needs of the community.