With protective gear at a premium during the coronavirus pandemic, first responders may find themselves in a situation where they have to use homemade masks.

People have already started to make and donate homemade masks to the Hudson Fire Department. Fire Chief Jerry Varnes is grateful for the donations, but he said the masks are a last resort, and not a replacement for professional protective gear.

"It’s better than nothing, but it’s far from perfect," Varnes said. "It is not a replacement for an N-95 mask or a N-100 mask."

Varnes said EMS, fire and police in Hudson still have adequate personal protective equipment and are not at the point where they need the homemade masks, but now is the time to acquire them. First responders don’t know how the supply will hold up if there is a spike in cases.

"We still have, for what is happening now, a good supply," Varnes said. "Will that supply be good a week from now? Two weeks from now? A month from now? We don’t know."

Some people have already donated masks and others have asked about helping. But before they do, Varnes said the city wants to create a template for them to follow.

He said things like material could affect breathing for a patient using a mask. There are different thought processes on what to use as a filter, and Varnes said the elastic needed for masks might be "the new toilet paper" and hard to come by.

After they put a schematic out on how the masks should be made, Varnes said they could have a reasonably consistent homemade mask to use in some situations, or if all other personal protective equipment runs out.

"We may or may not use them," he said. "But if we are going to have stock, let’s have consistent stock."

Summit County Public Health’s Emergency Preparedness Supervisor Chris Barker said the homemade masks provide droplet protection. But for a first responder, he said it doesn’t provide enough protection for their personal safety.

The mask could probably be used for patients, where the main contamination concern is droplet protection, he said. First responders would want an N-95 mask or something with a respirator. But the masks could be used over a first responder’s mask for additional protection.

Varnes said current protocol for Hudson is for first responders to wear N-95 masks, and for patients to be given surgical masks. He said if homemade masks made it into service, they would likely be used on patients and not on caregivers.

He said in a worse-case scenario, first responders may elect to reuse superior N-95 masks rather than use a homemade mask.

An exact design is not ready yet, but Varnes said he hopes to have something soon that is approved by the city’s medical director and Summit County Public Health.

Varnes said he is grateful for all the people in the community who are willing to help, and that there are a lot of them.

"What I would hate is for somebody to go through the effort, make something for us, and then it not be usable," Varnes said. "That’s why we think it’s important to make a standardized schematic for the city of Hudson."