HOWLAND – The town’s Fire Department is turning to the community for help as a nationwide shortage in medical supplies hits home.

“We can’t get surgical masks for our patients, so we are trying to make some,” Howland Fire Chief Josh McNally said Tuesday.

McNally talked with the NEWS after town officials posted on social media asking for donations of surgical masks.

On Monday, the Town of Howland Municipal Page on Facebook simply asked “The Howland Fire/EMS is in need of personal protective masks. If you have any or looking for a project making these we would be thankful.”

The emergency department serves approximately 2,000 patients annually.

“We had an order placed before it (the Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic) all went down,” McNally said. “We go through supplies very, very quickly.”

He said that order, which was placed in January, has not been filled. The state of Maine is releasing very few supplies to all emergency care professionals, and suppliers do not anticipate having stock available until later this month.

In the interim, firefighters and ambulance crews are converting their SCBA (self contained breathing apparatus) from using air bottles to a simple filter attachment.

“It might look odd for our patients,” McNally said.

It is the patients, however, that he is most concerned about. Emergency responders try to place a mask on every person, regardless of if they are displaying virus symptoms or not.

“It is a line of defense for that patient,” he said. “We are going to have to take extra precautions no matter what the complaint is.”

McNally did say a local seamstress, Holly Dyer, has been aiding rescue personnel by creating masks from materials his department provides.

“Anyone in the public that has any masks they are not using, we could put them to good use.”

The town has seen a dramatic decrease in ambulance calls, fielding roughly half of the normal volume since the outbreak started. McNally said the ambulance team, like hospital workers, are taking extra precautions to keep their equipment clean and sterile.

“If you really need an ambulance or the emergency room, call for that,” McNally said. “I don’t want to see someone with active chest pain stay home because they are worried about catching coronavirus.”

More information is available on the town or fire department’s Facebook page

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