In the past five weeks, COVID-19 infections have swept through the South King Fire & Rescue department.
Since mid-December 2021, 48 department members have reported testing positive for COVID-19, according to the department. Two of those members are administration employees, while the remaining 46 are firefighters.
Most reported mild to moderately uncomfortable conditions, said Assistant Chief Gordy Goodsell at the Jan. 25 fire commissioners meeting. Each of the firefighters, who are all fully vaccinated, recovered in isolation at home, he added.
“[There were] no hospitalizations and nobody requiring care outside of the home,” Goodsell said.
In August 2021, the board of fire commissioners faced controversy after their decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all SKFR firefighters in order to work with patients. On Jan. 4, the board approved extending the vaccination mandate to all non-uniformed administration employees, too.
“I think that speaks to the wisdom of the board’s decision with regard to mandating vaccinations, the fact that no one has been hospitalized,” said Commissioner Dave Berger on Jan. 25.
Though any positive case of COVID-19 is unfortunate, he said, a far more serious situation would be if any of the members required hospitalization and intensive care.
As of Jan. 25, seven firefighters are in isolation and 38 people have returned to work. Department members are exiting isolation faster than entering a quarantine period, Goodsell said.
Prior to the COVID-19 case reported on Dec. 18, the department had not had any members test positive since October 2021.
Half of the positive infections occurred between Christmas and the week after New Year’s Day, said Public Information Officer Brad Chaney.
As for overtime shifts, Chaney said SKFR is averaging 1.2 personnel per shift so far and that not all overtime shifts are due to COVID-19. Some overtime shifts are due to firefighters on sick leave due to job-related injuries, family leave, or others on military leave.
With multiple members out for COVID-19 or other reasons, staffing can be a challenge, Chaney said.
“The closing of an aid car is a very rare instance and is done so at a fire station where there is a fire engine as well,” he said, meaning the fire engine may respond to more calls than if the aid car was in service. “Staffing is difficult at times but community safety is our number one priority.”
The department welcomed two new firefighters on Jan. 24 and has nine more recruits beginning at the fire academy.