Coronavirus caution in NWF

Nathan Cobb
Walton Sun

PANAMA CITY — State and local officials are rallying in the wake of the ever-spreading coronavirus.

On Friday, a round-table discussion was held at Gulf Coast State College. It featured representatives from fire departments and emergency management services across Bay, Walton and Okaloosa counties.

For Jimmy Patronis, Florida chief financial officer, the meeting was a chance to show Northwest Florida’s first responders that the state has their backs.

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“This is no different than a hurricane threat that would be facing the state of Florida,” Patronis said. “The same first responders (who) respond to a hurricane will be the same first responders (who) will be responding to a coronavirus threat.”

According to information from the meeting, 16 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the virus. It’s commonly paired with a severe cold and fever.

“We’re checking every week with the department of health to get updates, but right now, there’s no critical alerts (in Florida) that have been brought to our attention,” said Julius Halas, state fire marshal.

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Halas added that the meeting was mainly to make sure local departments have necessary “universal precautions” — masks, goggles, etc. — in case of an outbreak.

”That could happen in a moment’s notice,“ he said.

Both Larry Couch, chief of the Panama City Beach Fire Department and Kent Taylor, assistant chief of the Panama City Fire Department, were among the roughly 20 officials who attended the meeting.

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Both were thankful for the state’s support and its aggressive approach to preventing the illness from spreading.

“Our department is basically just in preparation mode,” Couch said. “We haven’t had any cases in the state of Florida, and we hope it stays that way.”

“It’s very important that we know that we have the support of the state ... so we can come together and provide the services we need to for the citizens and protect ourselves,” Taylor added.

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For Ryan Crawford, chief of the South Walton Fire District, firefighters play a crucial role in this fight. Along with knocking down blazes, they also respond to other emergency services.

Crawford added that because of this, all SWFD firefighters are cross-trained as paramedics and EMTs.

“Fire services in general, whether they run the ambulance service or not, are still responding to the community’s 911 needs,” he said. “They’re typically the first on scene to encounter that patient and usually provide that continuum of care until the ambulance arrives.”