NEWPORT, R.I. —
As an emergency medical technician (EMT) in Swansea, Massachusetts, Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport electrical engineer Gary Huntress at times has to respond to difficult situations.
A recent call, though, was different from anything he had experienced before in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“I transported a gentleman recently and his wife — probably in her 80s — looked half at me and half distantly saying ‘I know I can't go with him.’ That made me very sad,” Huntress said. “Usually, she would ride with us in the ambulance so she could be with him in the hospital.
“The threat is unseen and you don't know how protective you need to be. You worry that you need to do more and that's stressful.”
Huntress, like all people throughout the world, has had to adapt to new threats posed by the coronavirus. Unlike others, he has seen how gut wrenching this can be firsthand.
“I have been to the triage tent at Rhode Island Hospital, and brought patients to the COVID-19 isolation ward. It's not pretty,” Huntress said. “Let’s all keep fighting this.”
Huntress, a resident of Swansea, Massachusetts, and a member of the town’s Ambulance Corps’ board of directors, works as an EMT every Friday from 6 p.m. through Saturday at 6 a.m. and often fills in other shifts when needed. At NUWC Division Newport, Huntress works in the Software Engineering Branch in the Platform and Payload Integration Department.
“We have gone from zero cases in our region to a handful, but before our first reported case we were already treating everyone as high risk,” Huntress said. “All local ambulance services have been preparing for this for many weeks. We have dramatically changed how we respond to almost every call.
“In the past, we'd arrive on scene and the crew (typically three of us) would meet the patient in place and immediately begin treatment. Today, the 911 dispatcher tells the patient to meet us outside if possible. That would have been unthinkable in the past.”
Huntress also described their disinfection procedures as “extreme.” At the start of each shift and after every patient, he said, the inside of the ambulance — cab and box — is cleaned with a bleach solution.
“Every piece of equipment we use or touch is cleaned. We have gloves, gowns, goggles, masks and face shields,” Huntress said. “Thankfully, we have adequate supplies and all crews take this very seriously.”
Huntress praised Division Newport leadership for the measures it has taken to ensure worker safety.
“Bravo Zulu for sure. Embracing telework early was the correct move, especially knowing it would not be perfect at first. Then working hard to fix what wasn't working was also excellent,” Huntress said. “My telework experience has been very good and I'm trying hard to be productive.
“I have not been at my office in quite a while, but they rolled out lots of hand sanitizer and wipes, and most importantly good communication and awareness. I honestly think that has reduced our exposure.”
Like Division Newport leadership, Huntress echoes much of the same advice as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for preventing spread of the virus. This includes washing your hands thoroughly and often, refraining from touching your face, staying home when you can and maintaining six-plus feet of physical distance when you cannot.
NUWC Division Newport is a shore command of the U.S. Navy within the Naval Sea Systems Command, which engineers, builds and supports America’s fleet of ships and combat systems. NUWC Newport provides research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures associated with undersea warfare.
NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.