LONDON, ONT. -- In her decade of service, Dorchester based paramedic, Kristin Smukavic, has never had to question the level of emotional support she can offer a patient.

But at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, she says most paramedics had to judge their level of comfort.

“It was tough at first. Just like putting your hand on the patients shoulder and reassuring them they are a person under that mask”.

The compassion paramedics offer during a suspected COVID-19 call is appreciated by families.

Smukavic acknowledges, some, may not see their sick their family member for some time after they depart in the ambulance.

“We can’t even bring visitors or family members with us in the truck. And I make sure to tell them say what you need to say to them and tell them that you love them. And, to call them at the hospital”.

But as the “new normal” becomes more day-to-day, concerns are easing for EMS workers.

When they arrive at a call where a patient has failed COVID-19 prescreening, paramedic Steph Hosford says full PPE gear is put on.

“We have a gown a disposable gown that we will wear. We wear protective eyewear and then either a surgical mask or an N95 or a respirator.”

At the headquarters of Middlesex-London Paramedic Service the logistics crew has an important role to play during the pandemic.

Member Larissa Foote works with a team of three, each shift, to keep ambulances clean.

But, amidst the pandemic the process has been stepped-up.

Foote says crews, in full personal protective gear, sanitize every part of the vehicle and the gear stored inside.

Further, in cases where COVID-19 is highly suspected, ambulances are fogged with a sanitizing mist before being put through high heat to kill any remaining viruses.

The entire process, Foote says, can take four hours and that can put pressure on the system.

“We’ve had a lot of backlogs happen, and then the regular calls happen. That take trucks out of service and commissions. So, this is just adding that one extra piece of stress to us to make sure that our paramedics and community are safe”.

And as they make us safe, they’ve appreciated our efforts to thank them.

“I’ve had people come up to us in the Dorchester parking lot saying shaking their heads and saying ‘Thank you', Hosford states.

For Smukavic the appreciation of the public has, in turn, given her a new appreciation for what once was a job to her.

“It feels like more of a calling now. I think people are more appreciative of what we do."