Meet FDU Alum Phil Orfan
On the COVID-19 Front Lines
Phil Orfan BA'95, MA'18, is helping to keep Charlotte, NC safe
You might say that firefighter and emergency medical technician Phil Orfan BA’95, MA’18 took the scenic route to his current position. Phil, who is now a firefighter and EMT in Charlotte, NC, first got certified in 1991. He joined the Bernardsville, NJ Fire Department as a volunteer, serving alongside his father, also a volunteer firefighter, throughout his college career.
He earned his BA in Communication at FDU and spent almost a decade working for a telecom companies as a bids and proposal manager, a field he eventually left in order to return to what he realized was his first love: emergency response.
While working as an Emergency Department patient care technician at Morristown Memorial Hospital, Phil met Ann-Jeannette Geib, a resident in emergency medicine.
“I was bringing patients in and out of the ER and there she was,” Phil recalls.
They fell in love and married.
Phil says that by 2017 both Ann-Jeannette and he were working 70 hours a week at what were ostensibly nine-to-five jobs and had welcomed a daughter into their family. And although both are New Jersey born and bred – “We’re both die-hard Yankees fans,” Phil says – they started to explore the idea of leaving the Northeast for a less frenetic lifestyle.
So when Ann-Jeannette was offered a position as an attending physician with Atrium Health System in Charlotte, NC, Phil began a job search and discovered that the 42 station Charlotte Fire Department was opening station number 43. Through a connection Phil secured a phone interview and decided to visit. “I can’t explain it,” he says. “I landed in Charlotte and it felt as if a weight was lifted from my shoulders.”
In February, Phil graduated from the Charlotte Fire Department Training Academy and became a member of Charlotte’s Ladder 40. And in March, the coronavirus that had been shuttering cities around the world for three months hit the US in a big way.
Although Charlotte has not become a hot spot for the virus, there are still currently more than 2,600 confirmed cases and more than 60 deaths. According to Phil, more than 85 percent of the calls EMT/firefighters respond to are medical in nature. “We beat the ambulances a certain percentage of the time. We don’t burn a lot in Charlotte,” he says. “Everything is so new and the fire suppression technology is good.”
“We are fully protected,” he says. “N95 masks, face goggles, and either Tyvex suits or full gowns and double gloves.”
But, he says, he is acutely aware of the capricious and lethal nature of the virus.
“I’ve been watching Facebook,” he says. “I lost a friend last night that I worked with at Atlantic [Ambulance Corporation, a division of healthcare giant Atlantic Health] and taught a lot of CPR classes with. They lost 3 EMTs in April from St. Clare’s Health System [in Mountain Lakes, NJ].”
Phil knows that all first responders, and, in fact all health care workers are at risk. But he worries that people living in areas that have not been hardest hit can be easily convinced that the threat is minimal.
“It’s scary,” he says. “I think there is a false sense of security.”
Because both Phil and Ann-Jeannette are at high risk of contracting the virus, and because they are concerned that their 6-year-old daughter remain safe, he says that they are trying to maintain social distancing not only in public places but also in their home.
“We’re all kind of just dealing with it. We’re off on opposite days. We get home from work, take our clothes off in the garage and we head to the shower,” he says. “Then we can interact with family. Our daughter knows the routine as well as we do.”
Phil says that he and his wife understand that risk is a part of their jobs. But, he says, he wants the public to understand that there are simple things they can do to help keep health care workers and first responders safe.
“Being an EMT anywhere in the country, you can gown up all you want,” he says. “But this virus is just as easily transmitted in the supermarket.”