DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — A first responders job was always risky, but much more since the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Contact 5 first reported on a spike in COVID-19 cases among firefighters in West Palm Beach. The department isn't the only one with first responders sidelined by the virus.
Eight members of the Delray Beach Fire Rescue Department were taken out of rotation in June because of COVID-19. Over the next four months, only three more were sidelined, but in November, cases spiked with another eight testing positive.
"As coronavirus cases spike in the general population, fire-rescue crews will be dealing with more infected patients more often," Capt. James Bast said.
Bast helped produce an instructional video early on during the pandemic, showing first responders how to best protect themselves against contracting COVID-19.
But even the best safety precautions don't always work, and Bast was one of the eight department cases in June.
"I don't know how I got it," Bast told Contact 5 in an interview. "It was long and grueling. I was probably sick for three weeks with a fever."
Other fire-rescue departments in the area are also seeing an increase in cases. As Contact 5 first reported, West Palm Beach had 29 cases since Oct. 1, or 13% of the department's staff. Martin County Fire Rescue and the town of Palm Beach have also reported more than 10% of their staff impacted by COVID-19.
"The numbers are increasing everywhere," Bast said. "We're concerned about them just like we are our families."
Bast emphasized that firefighters and paramedics need to be taking every precaution when responding to calls.
"The encounters that our front-line responders are having with sick patients definitely makes them more cautious," Bast told Contact 5.
He also noted that first responders can't let their guard down when they are off-duty.
"It's been a long, long year," Bast said.