Fire Medic Adam Miller frowned as he tried yet again to draw blood from the arm of probationary Firefighter Michael Rebert, who smiled from his seat across the table at Fire Station #3 on Friday.
“You really don’t want to give anything up, do you?” Miller said, withdrawing the needle in the hopes that one of the veins in Rebert’s hand would prove more fruitful.
“You can’t get blood out of a rock!” Rebert said, drawing chuckles from the room as he flexed his arm while holding a bandage over the small puncture mark near the inside of his elbow.
Scores of career firefighters took Rebert’s place at the table in fire stations all around Frederick County on Friday as paramedic students and their instructors set up blood drawing stations to collect samples from as many fire personnel as were willing. Over the next few days, each sample will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies in partnership with the governor’s office, the Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland Association and numerous health agencies.
Ideally, the test results will give county firefighters the ability to determine how many of their employees — as well as any volunteer firefighters who participate — had at one point contracted COVID-19 and began to develop antibodies for the virus, said Lt. Stephen Jones, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3666, the union that represents career firefighters in the county.
“Some may have had it and some may have never even known that they had it because testing back in the beginning of this was so limited that not all of our members got tested,” Jones said. “So this will help let us know if our precautions are working, like, you know, we do a lot of stuff on calls with gowns and masks and decontamination procedures and we want to see what’s working and what’s not to try to get a base-line.”
Antibody testing began in Frederick County on Wednesday, but some other counties have already completed their blood draws. The goal of the state firefighters union and the governor’s office was to collect data from as many firefighters across the state as possible to be better prepared to keep firefighters and residents safe by preventing the further spread of COVID-19.
Jones took his turn in the hot seat shortly after Rebert, waiting patiently while Steve Barcenas, a firefighter who is also training to become a paramedic, found a vein on the inside of the lieutenant’s forearm and inserted the needle to begin the blood draw.
For Barcenas and his fellow paramedic students, the antibody testing sweep offered another benefit: much needed practice. As higher-grade rescue personnel, paramedics are trained to set up IV lines, administer medicine by injection and other techniques involving needles that emergency medical technicians aren’t qualified to do, but with the onset of COVID-19, opportunities for Barcenas’ class to get hands-on experience dwindled, he said.
“Whereas past classes got into hospitals, got rotations in and were able to get hands on patients, we’ve been limited to the medic units because hospitals have been eliminated as an option,” Barcenas said. “So it’s good to get out here and actually practice skills that we’ve been denied these past couple months.”