Fire Station 23 Capt. Juliet Draper has seen a lot in her 24 years as a Colorado Springs firefighter from the 1997 blizzard to the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires in 2012 and 2013. Today she is part of the team fighting COVID-19 virus.

The coronavirus pandemic has left us all in uncharted waters, with no horizon in sight. But with Colorado Springs-area businesses and schools closed, national pastimes on hold, and the traditional flow of life ground to a halt, one thing’s for sure:  We’re carrying on. With new worries and “social distancing” habits, but also with new perspectives and priorities. We're sharing several of your personal stories.

Juliet Draper

With goggles strapped to her face, gloves covering her hands, a mask over her mouth and a long blue gown draped over her body, Juliet Draper looks more like a surgeon than a firefighter.

The safety gear the 23-year Colorado Springs fire captain wears has become mandatory for all Colorado Springs Fire Department staff when responding to medical calls — in a move to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

Draper calls her new uniform a “learning curve,” but necessary to keep safe during the pandemic.

“Normally, we would just walk up to people like we normally would, you know our faces, you could see our smiles. But now, we are all covered up,” she said. “It makes it a challenge communicating with people because so much of what we do and so much of our communication is body language and facial expressions and so you know, we have to put a lot of that on the back burner for the time being and we have to be more verbally communicative.”

For Draper, a self-proclaimed hand shaker, hugger and backslapper, the change is hard.

“For me personally, that’s the hardest part: not shaking hands and hugging. That is truly unusual for us. We do like to make sure that we can be as warm as we can be with our masks,” she said. “We’re doing the best we can with what we got.”

Luckily, adapting to change and making the best of a situation is in most firefighters’ DNA, she said.

One of the most “creative” changes made during the pandemic, she said, was the department’s decision to staff Engine 23, which is stationed in the department’s headquarters on Printer’s Parkway.

The engine, which Draper is the captain of, helps alleviate calls made to stations 8 and 1, she said.

“We’ve never done that before. We were supposed to be building (engine) 23, but in the interim we staffed it. … It’s working out so far,” Draper said.

When responding to medical calls, the department has adopted its “two-in, two-out rule” — typically reserved for when there is a fire — to help limit its staff’s exposure to the virus.

Once inside, one firefighter will make contact with the patient and the other will stand six feet away. Two other firefighters will remain outside, unless there is a medical emergency and all firefighters will go inside.

The coronavirus, though unique, will go down in her memory as another “big event” during her career, right beside the Waldo Canyon fire, the Old Colorado City Fire and the Blizzard of ‘97, when she got a ride home in a Humvee.

“We will have others, I’m sure. It is kind of just the nature of the beast, nature of the business that we’re in. It’s definitely unusual,” she said.

“That’s one of the things that I cherish about this job: things are always changing.”

Whatever you’re doing to weather this storm, The Gazette wants to know. Send an email to coronavirusstories@gazette.com, and include a selfie if you can.

Reach Olivia at olivia.prentzel@gazette.com.

Twitter: @oliviaprentzel

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