Phoenix firefighters contracting coronavirus at alarming rate

Jul 7, 2020, 11:54 AM | Updated: 2:43 pm
(KTAR News Photo/Ali Vetnar)...
(KTAR News Photo/Ali Vetnar)
(KTAR News Photo/Ali Vetnar)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Fire Department says it is dealing with a growing number of firefighters who are contracting coronavirus.

“We have had multiple positive cases in the past week, a truly alarming amount,” P.J. Dean with the United Phoenix Firefighters Association told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Monday.

The Phoenix Fire Department reported 62 positive COVID-19 cases among firefighters as of Tuesday morning. The number exceeded 70 by Tuesday afternoon.

Another 100 members out of 1,585 are currently quarantined during the testing process, awaiting their results. Seven civilian members have also tested positive.

“The Phoenix Fire Department, like any fire department, is a microcosm of society so we’re going to reflect the same thing in our numbers as there is in the average person,” Dean added.

Firefighters are facing a difficult and unique position during the pandemic.

Every third day, they report to duty for at least 24 hours, sharing a fire station with a variety of people while sleeping, eating, and living together.

Even so, firefighters are struggling to get tested despite promised testing since they are essential workers.

“It’s a daily struggle to get our members tested and that’s the definitive measure that is required so that we know how to proceed with one of our members after an exposure,” Dean said.

As many as 60 Phoenix firefighters have been taken off duty within a day because of a single exposure due to the environment they work in. That results in a mandatory quarantine for firefighters until they are tested and receive their results.

“We really need to pull out the stops of anything we have available to us to try and protect our members so we can keep them healthy so they can continue to work,” Dean added.

Despite wearing full personal protective equipment, firefighters are still getting exposed and contracting coronavirus, which impacts their manpower.

“It’s all hands-on deck, those who are not sick are picking up the slack and working overtime,” Capt. Rob McDade, a spokesperson for the Phoenix Fire Department, said.

“Our members understand their responsibility to serve the community and there will be no shortage in that despite the growing number of cases.”

The department has dedicated a crew to keeping fire trucks and ambulances decontaminated during the pandemic. The protocol includes a special cleaning for their ambulances after transporting any patients who may have been positive for coronavirus.

The crew uses electromagnetic cleaners that uses a powder coating of aerosol hydrogen peroxide mixture to clean the equipment. Fire stations are also cleaned daily by members.

The United Phoenix Firefighters Association has established relationships with Valley hotels, making rooms available to quarantine firefighters. The union is also delivering groceries and workout equipment to firefighters who are unable to leave their home due to the virus.

Their goal to keep their members healthy and in shape so they can quickly return to duty.

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Phoenix firefighters contracting coronavirus at alarming rate