Inside the grueling frontlines with COVID-19 first responders

Paramedics detail their day at Cal Fire Station 71 in Riverside County.

For firefighters and paramedics at Cal Fire Station 71 in Riverside County, California, it feels nonstop: rushing off to the next call and preparing for a coronavirus-related emergency.

ABC News' Kaylee Hartung brought "World News Tonight" inside the grueling day-to-day reality -- what's become the new normal -- for Palm Desert-based paramedics like Bill Titov.

PHOTO: ABC News' Kaylee Hartung embedded with Cal Fire Station 71 in Riverside County, Calif., on the front lines of the battle with coronavirus.
ABC News' Kaylee Hartung embedded with Cal Fire Station 71 in Riverside County, Calif., on the front lines of the battle with coronavirus.
ABC News

As a call came into one of the busiest fire stations in the U.S, Titov, who hasn't seen his family in 10 days, shared his thoughts.

"You keep in mind, in the back of your mind, that you have a family that you want to go home to and friends you want to go home to," he told ABC News.

PHOTO: ABC News' Kaylee Hartung embedded with Cal Fire Station 71 in Riverside County, Calif., on the front lines of the battle with coronavirus.
ABC News' Kaylee Hartung embedded with Cal Fire Station 71 in Riverside County, Calif., on the front lines of the battle with coronavirus.
ABC News

Fire captain Pete Tierney said N-95 masks make it even harder to breathe in the extreme Southern California desert heat. Temperatures topped 100 degrees on Wednesday, down from 120 degrees last week.

"The guys are getting tired -- physically tired and mentally tired," he explained.

When asked if there was an end in sight, Tierney told Hartung, "Not as of right now, no."

On any given day, the first responders will rush off to at least a dozen incidents, often after a call from one of seven local elderly care centers.

“We can run 10 to 20 calls a day at these facilities," Titov said.

PHOTO: The Eisenhower Medical Center in Riverside, Calif., is pictured in an undated image made from video.
The Eisenhower Medical Center in Riverside, Calif., is pictured in an undated image made from video.
Courtesy Eisenhower Health

Presumed COVID-19 patients are rushed to Eisenhower Health, a Hospital in Rancho Mirage, where they're moved straight into an isolation room in the COVID-19 ward, where they're given rapid tests.

As of the time of this publication on Wednesday evening, the hospital had only three beds left in the Intensive Care Unit.

One of the facility's nurses described the pace of COVID-19 admissions.

"They come in faster than we’re able to discharge,” Shannon Ashcom said in a video diary from inside the hospital. "And, unfortunately, these patients turn very quickly."

PHOTO: ABC News' Kaylee Hartung embedded with Cal Fire Station 71 in Riverside County, Calif., on the front lines of the battle with coronavirus.
ABC News' Kaylee Hartung embedded with Cal Fire Station 71 in Riverside County, Calif., on the front lines of the battle with coronavirus.
ABC News

Eisenhower Health's admission rate has doubled in the last month, as one in five people in Riverside County are testing positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Alan Williamson, the hospital's chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs, said they're "close" to a breaking point.

"If we exceed capacity, something has to give, and the quality starts to suffer," he said, adding that turning away COVID-19 patients is something "we're desperately trying to avoid."

This report was featured in the Thursday, July 16, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

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