Fire responders with ventilated masks | Letter

I had occasion to help a neighbor who had to call 911 for an ambulance a few nights ago, our EMTs came immediately, masks in place, and did their jobs very professionally. They were followed by two gentlemen from our fire department who were also wearing masks but their masks had exhale valves. I asked if their exhale valves were filtered. They were not. Our neighborhood is populated by many people in their 60s and 70s who have been very careful not to expose themselves to COVID.

I know it can be difficult to wear a mask, especially if you have to wear glasses and are outside on a cool evening as we were. It’s hard to keep glasses from fogging. It can also be difficult to breathe in a mask designed to prevent chemical and dust exposure that necessarily has a snug fit unless it has a clear exhale valve.

It’s pretty clear by now what my issue is with these younger gentlemen, their emergency assistance status and their unfiltered exhale valves. I’ll clarify anyway. It’s clear now that COVID spreads by aerosols. These firefighters are younger thus statistically more likely to be casual about their own exposure. They are likely frequent visitors to emergencies thus more likely to be exposed to and expose others to COVID. If they are pre-symptomatic or a-symptomatic they are potentially exposing the citizens they are pledged to help with a miserable illness with a possible dire outcome (you know, death).

I suggested a different type of mask that fits closely and helps prevent glasses from fogging, it too was the N95 that is often preferred but the difference in cost of $16 was sited as the reason they weren’t using it. I’m pretty sure that every San Juan Island citizen’s life and health is worth more than the difference in cost for the better masks. My best suggestion is that any emergency responder not be allowed to use a mask with an exhale valve ever.

Sharon Spangler

San Juan Island