No positive cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Riverside, Brookfield or North Riverside, yet. But Riverside Fire Chief Matthew Buckley says it’s inevitable. In fact, it’s probably already here.

“Do I believe the virus is currently here? Yes,” said Riverside Fire Chief Matthew Buckley in an interview at the Riverside Fire Station on March 13. “We have carriers who are walking around with it right now, who don’t even know it.”

And while leaders at the national level might have dropped the ball on planning, that hasn’t been the case locally, according Buckley, who has been coordinating paramedic and police training with Riverside personnel and those of neighboring villages on COVID-19 and treating patients.

Two weeks ago, Buckley convened a meeting in Riverside of neighboring police fire chiefs to discuss planning and response measures.

“We’ve been working on our planning for well over two months with regard to getting equipment, training our personnel and making sure we are prepared for this,” Buckley said. “So I believe we are prepared. It’s not going to be an easy operation by any means, but we are going to keep working on different staffing plans … to accommodate call load and what is trending and happening in our community.”

On March 16, the village sent out an email to residents to lay out its preparation for handling calls to the West Central Consolidated Communications (WC3), the emergency dispatch center serving all three villages as well as McCook.

Dispatchers will be asking callers a series of questions, including whether anyone is experiencing flu-like symptoms, whether that person has traveled outside of the U.S. in the last two weeks or whether they’ve been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Paramedics and police officers have also been equipped with kits containing two N95 masks — one for the paramedic/police officer and one for the patient — as well as eye protection and gloves.

If paramedics determine the patient is positive for COVID-19 or is likely to test positive, paramedics will don lightweight Tychem suits and masks fitted with air filters. 

“It gives our folks a lot more protection and then we will treat and transport that patient dressed just like that,” Buckley said. 

Suits are not reused and masks are cleaned after use. Buckley said ambulances will be decontaminated after each use.

Admittedly, the presence of first responders in such gear could be jarring.

“Although some of these items, when worn, may look intimidating or seem over-the-top, please do not be offended,” Buckley wrote in his letter to residents. “They are there for your protection and the protection of first responders.”

Police are also implementing temporary changes in some protocols, said Brookfield Police Chief Edward Petrak, such as suspending roll calls and asking officers to spend as little time as possible in the station to minimize personal contact.

Police departments around the area are also suspending some services they routinely provide, such as fingerprinting for job applications, station tours, ride-alongs and the like.

Non-emergency calls will for the time being be handled by police officers and dispatchers by phone and not in person. If someone comes to the police lobby and is concerned about privacy, they will be instructed to return to their car or home and talk with police by phone.

Police will continue to respond to emergency and other high-priority calls in person.

“This is an unprecedented event and you’re witnessing it firsthand because it’s not a one-day or one-week event,” Buckley said.