By Jessica Vallejo

HALLANDALE (CBSMiami) – Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a 15 percent increase of 911 calls throughout South Florida.

Many of those calls are from people who think they have the coronavirus. However, they aren’t necessarily reporting they have symptoms when they call 911 and it’s become an issue for first responders.

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“It’s causing our group to have to call out sick, which is affecting our workforce,” said Jason Smith, Union President for the Broward County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics.

Smith said as a result of people being afraid to call in a COVID-19 911 call, their crews are responding to the wrong response code.

“So a slip and fall, men and women respond to that 911 call and when they get there, it ends up not necessarily being a slip or fall. It is a natural COVID-19 patient,” said Smith.

It’s put a strain on the 911 response system and is putting first responders at risk.

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Smith said their crews are arriving at scenes with the wrong PPE uniform, meaning they are not protected from the virus.

“And since we are in this global need to preserve or reserve the equipment for those types of calls, the men and women, number one aren’t prepared for that call and they have now been exposed. And the second issue is at times we are putting on this gear when the call did not need it,” said Smith.

Here’s what you can do to help.

First responders are asking you to not be afraid. They will be sending help your way, even if you have COVID-19. Be truthful. Report any of your symptoms to the 911 dispatcher.

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“By you being truthful, it will allow us to go back home to our families and then respond back to the community and the next call of emergency,” said Smith.

Jessica Vallejo