SAN JOSE (KPIX) – As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, the toll is mounting on the men and women who are often the very first responders.

“We were there back in March at the Grand Princess cruise ship evacuating patients,” says American Medical Response Regional Director John Rey Hassan. “We sent personnel to New York City. It’s definitely pushed folks to the brink, and taxed resources to say the least.”

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From resources, to manpower, to raw physical endurance, 2020 has brought unprecedented challenges for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel. That goes for the helicopter teams used to evacuate critically ill COVID-19 patients from rural areas, and the ground units serving as both first responders and transport service.

“As more and more hospital bed capacity gets taxed within we play the important role of moving those patients between facilities,” Hassan explains.

With the pandemic stretching into its ninth month, EMS workers are now giving the same warning that we’ve been hearing recently from hospitals.

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“The hospitals and the caregivers and the nurses and the doctors are telling us that they are at their limit,” Santa Clara County’s Director of Health Preparedness Dr. Ahmad Kamal said last week. “They are telling us they are overwhelmed.”

As for the EMS workers, it is the same story.

“To say that our personnel or tax on the break right now it’s not an understatement,” Hassan says.

As for Monday’s big headline, the arrival of the vaccine, there is still no exact timetable for where EMS responders might fall in line.

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“Right now, we are really kind of at the mercy of the county and the mercy of the state on our personnel receiving the vaccine,” Hassan says. “Certainly, as frontline healthcare responders, and emergency responders, we would hope to be prioritized high on the list. But a lot of that remains to be seen.“