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'People are using us as a primary care': St. Louis Fire Dept. sees surge in 911 COVID calls

Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson says with the omicron surge, they're seeing six times as many COVID-related 911 calls as they did before Christmas.

ST. LOUIS — It's a busy time of year for the St. Louis City Fire Department.

It's cold outside, so people are having heating issues that lead to fires. 

Now, their 911 calls related to COVID concerns have more than tripled, and they're dealing with some of their own staff having to quarantine.

Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said the omicron surge is affecting their resources.

"St. Louis Fire-EMS Service is a trauma-based service. People are using us as a primary care a lot of times, which I completely understand," Jenkerson said.

Along with daily fire duties, ever since the recent omicron case surge, Jenkerson added COVID response to their list.

"Christmas between New Years they spiked way up we were handling 50 calls per day minimum sometimes 60 calls a day of COVID," he said.

That's about six times the amount of 911 COVID calls they received before Christmas break. In most cases, Jenkerson said the symptoms aren't severe.

"As soon as they get a scratchy throat or a stuffed up nose or a slight fever they want to call us, because they can't get into the hospitals, they can't get into the urgent access cares. We're it. We're the primary care providers now, so our numbers have gone through the roof," Jenkerson said.

They can provide medical transport to the hospital for people who are experiencing severe symptoms, but can't give tests or vaccinations.

"Some people had a crazy idea that we could provide COVID tests, we can't. So it's a matter of us going there, checking their symptoms, checking their pulse, their blood pressure their temperature, and trying to provide a little guidance to them as what they should do, how they should take care of these symptoms and where they should go," Jenkerson said.

They run 12 ambulances a day on a 24/7 basis. 

Each medical transport takes a minimum of about an hour.

With the COVID calls, the patient transfer to overwhelmed hospitals and sanitizing the ambulance afterwards causes even more delays.

RELATED: St. Louis hospitals are asking people to go elsewhere for COVID testing

"We're trying to make sure that the system is available for the people who have severe traumas or severe breathing or cardiac type issues. We just don't want to waste our resources for people who are questioning how sick they are," Jenkerson said.

The City Fire Department is also experiencing staffing issues.

Before Christmas they had two people on the quarantine list.

Between Christmas and New Years that number jumped up to more than 60.

Jenkerson said that number dropped down to about 40 still in quarantine now.