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Interview with Colorado Firefighter Kirsten Barry: The Effects of COVID19

Interview with Colorado Firefighter Kirsten Barry: The Effects of COVID19

Aug 25, 2020

Receptra Naturals - Beyond the Hemp Fields: Interview with a Colorado Firefighter about the effects of COVID19

Frontline workers fighting the battle of keeping us safe during the COVID-19 outbreak are taking it all in their stride, despite changing working conditions and added stress. This is part of Receptra’s series of interviews focused on three main areas of frontline worker life during the pandemic:

  1. How has the COVID19 pandemic impacted your daily life/work life?
  2. What are you doing to manage your stress level?
  3. Do you have any suggestions for the rest of us?

Firefighter Kirsten Barry

Hygiene, Colorado Fire Department & Boxing Gym Owner

The Hygiene fire department serves over 4,500 residents in Boulder County, Colorado. Like those in many other states, Coloradans have been asked to wear non-medical masks when not inside their homes. As of mid-April, there are nearly 400 deceased due to the COVID19 outbreak in Colorado.

Some of the biggest concerns for emergency professionals like Kirsten Barry of the Hygiene Fire Department is not those out of the home, but having to go into people’s homes. Barry is also an owner of The Corner Boxing Club in Boulder, which has also been heavily impacted by the virus.

“I own a boxing gym in Boulder, Colorado and as a result of COVID19 my schedule has opened up and I have been picking up more shifts at the fire station and firefighting has become my primary income for now, with no students at the gym. It has given me an opportunity to train and expand my skills as a firefighter.

Protocols have changed for patient interaction. All calls are treated with “universal precautions,” which means that for every medical call only one firefighter goes in. We wear a mask, gown, and gloves. Before we would just wear gloves. We are also limiting the equipment we bring inside.

We built a decontamination tent in our bay where the firetrucks are so when we come back from a COVID call we can put everything we wore into a biohazard bag, clean the uniforms and immediately shower.

It has added stress mostly because of what contracting COVID19 would mean. For me personally, firefighting is my only income so if I contract the virus I would have to self-quarantine and won’t be able to work. I’m pretty healthy and more worried about how it would impact me financially. I am super cautious both at the station and at home. There has been a drop in medical calls because people are self-isolating, but heart attacks, strokes, and other emergencies still occur.

It has been challenging to keep the culture and community of the gym alive because what we do is so personal. There’s an energy that comes with being in the same room and it is hard to get through an online class. We are doing our best to keep people connected through the gym and feeling like their entire world has changed, although it has. Maintain your health and happiness.

kirsten barry firefighter

When Colorado initially received the stay at home order, I was stress eating and drinking, but paired with a sedentary lifestyle, compared to the life I was used to… my body composition.... changed quickly [she says with a laugh], so I had to switch coping mechanisms back to something healthy. We have a workout room at the fire station and a road behind the station where we can run. I also still have access to my personal gym (The Corner Boxing Club) where I can train and teach remote classes.

Staying healthy and in shape is an obligation as a first responder. Potentially having to drag someone out of a house while wearing 60 pounds of gear is a good motivator.

There are some ways you can do your part to help keep yourself and others safe. Having a bottle of hand sanitizer in your car is important. When you get fule or go to the grocery store, wipe your hands and anything you may touch, like your steering wheel. At home, think about the way you operate and move about your world; drawers, doorknobs, phones. Clean those often.

The last thing is that just because you have to shelter in place doesn’t mean you have to be sedentary in place. Also, please don’t call 911 if you have sniffles; do call if you can’t breathe.