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Phoenix firefighter hospitalized with COVID-19, visited by crew

(Phoenix Fire Department Photo)

PHOENIX – Dan Volcko of the Phoenix Fire Department has responded to countless COVID-19-related 911 calls since the pandemic began. But he never thought he would be the one to end up in the hospital.

“It is a real disease and I saw that as a first responder that’s running on COVID patients daily – that people are suffering, I just had no idea of the extent that’s possible of it,” Volcko, 48, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

Volcko tested positive at the beginning of December after he was exposed to the virus on the job. He quarantined himself at home and took the necessary precautions to treat his fever and body aches.

As a paramedic, he knew what to look out for. As his symptoms worsened, he began monitoring his oxygen levels.

“On day 10, I woke up and they were at an arguably dangerous level,” Volcko added. “It was at that point that I thought, you know what I should probably get ahead of this.”

That’s when he called his colleagues and mentors within the Phoenix Fire Department and they encouraged him to take the step to get hospitalized.

With no underlying health conditions, Volcko spent the next 12 days hospitalized at Honor Health’s John C. Lincoln Medical Center.

Although he was inside a COVID unit, Volcko was healthy enough to avoid a ventilator. Instead, he received oxygen from what’s called a high-flow nasal cannula – which is essentially a heated and humidified system that allows oxygen levels to be delivered at very high flow rates – for four days.

The remainder of his time he was treated with steroids. But with roughly two weeks spent inside a hospital, after 10 days at home alone – the loneliness impacted Volcko and his crew was there to show support.

As a firefighter with 20 years on the job, Volcko serves on one of the ladder trucks within the city of Phoenix that are used for larger fires to reach to the top of structures. His crew loaded up and went to visit him through his hospital window.

“They were able to set up the ladder and reach up to my window. Obviously we’re not allowed visitors but we talked through the cell phone and took pictures,” Volcko said as he laughed.

Not only did Volcko appreciate the gesture, but so did his family who lives out of state.

Home from the hospital, Volcko continues to recover. He remains hopeful he can get back to work on a fire truck next month.

“There’s something completely random about this. I mean, I’m relatively young and don’t have any comorbidities – I just got plucked out of the crowd and that’s fine. I just didn’t understand it until it happened to me,” Volcko said.

He thanked the doctors and nurses who treated him while at Honor Health’s John C. Lincoln Medical Center. Volcko joked that he had to give up being a provider and become a patient, which was not an easy thing to do, but he was appreciative of the care he received.

As of Monday, 472 out of the almost 1,600 firefighters who work on firetrucks in Phoenix have tested positive for COVID-19.

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