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Pandemic is a ‘hectic time’ to be saving lives in Atlantic Beach

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First responders across Long Island have had to change the way they treat patients during the coronavirus pandemic. Emergency service units such as Atlantic Beach Rescue now face new challenges when rescuing distressed boaters and swimmers just as the summer season ramps up.

The all-volunteer squad of roughly 40 provides emergency medical services and advanced life support within the 2-square-mile area of Atlantic Beach, conducts rescues in its waters and provides mutual aid to the U.S. Coast Guard, the New York City police and fire departments and all of the fire departments in the Five Towns, as well as Long Beach. Atlantic Beach Rescue was named Nassau County’s Emergency Medical Service Agency of the Year in 2018.

Avi Golan, the unit’s chief, described the adjustments that the volunteers have had to make since March. “Whenever we go on a call, we treat the patient as if they have coronavirus,” Golan said. “One person goes in and treats the patient wearing [personal protective equipment] such as gloves and masks. In the past, two or three members would go in and treat the patient.” Golan added that crew members are equipped with thermometers to take patients’ temperature.

The new protocols add to response time, Golan said. “We’ve adjusted pretty well,” he said. “It was hard in the beginning, as it took time to put on the PPE supplies. Under normal circumstances, we would just take a bag of gear and hop in the truck and go to the house.”

Water rescues are a new challenge as well, Assistant Chief Jonathan Kohan said. “There’s no playbook for this,” he said. “We know a few things for sure, having been advised by both the New York state and Town of Hempstead medical authorities that the virus does not dilute in saltwater.”

Considering the manner in which the virus spreads, Kohan questioned whether swimming in this environment is appropriate. “It’s also transmitted airborne, so the wind is going to blow it longer distances in the ocean, putting swimmers and rescuers in greater jeopardy,” he said. “Why would anyone go into the ocean now?”

The emergency unit has met with the Long Beach Patrol and the Town of Hempstead Emergency Medical Services in the past eight weeks to gather information from other lifeguards and marine rescue services up and down the East Coast to formulate a response protocol for ocean rescue as the pandemic continues, said A.B. Rescue’s public information officer, Jimmy Olsen.

“Because of the information we’ve received, we will be issuing waterproof masks for protection, which will be utilized during an ocean rescue,” Olsen said. “While on the beach or on the marine crafts, and prior to contact with the public or a victim, our responders will have their nose and mouths covered for additional protection.”

Once on shore, Olsen explained, first responders will place a shield or similar face covering on the victim before conducting a primary assessment. “While the agency deploys a rescue swimmer as needed,” he said, “they will also be using different swimming rescue approaches to minimize patient contact.”

Kohan acknowledged that circumstances may be different this summer because of the pandemic. “We just want people to come to the beach, enjoy their time here in the sun, surf and go home safely, having had a great day,” he said. “As always, we will try our best to keep the public informed.”

Golan said he was proud of how his rescue squad members have responded to the new treatment protocols. “It’s been a hectic time, but everybody on our team is doing a great job, and it’s good experience for the members,” he said. “It goes without saying that A.B. Rescue hopes that people will respect social distancing protocols, wear masks and give our responding crews adequate work space to provide required care.”

For more information on Atlantic Beach Rescue call (516) 371-2348, or go to the organization’s Facebook page, facebook.com/abrescue360.