WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A surge in COVID-19 cases at the West Palm Beach Fire Department is cause for alarm for the department's top brass.
Contact 5 obtained a department memo from Chief Diana Matty dated Nov. 16 in which she writes there "has been a 475% increase in the number of positive West Palm Beach firefighters since Oct. 1, 2020."
"In the preceding 6 months, we had 4 total positives," Matty wrote. "Since Oct. 1, we have had an additional 19 positive firefighters. We currently have 8 personnel out of work."
Matty told Contact 5 another 10 firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks. In a department of 230 firefighters and first responders, Matty calls the number of infections "alarming."
SPECIAL SECTION: Coronavirus
"We are presuming that firefighters, by the nature of their job, got it on the job," Matty said in an interview.
The nature of their job includes treating a victim or patient in tight quarters, like an ambulance, who could be carrying the coronavirus.
Matty also said the spike in infections is costing city taxpayers.
"When these people are out sick with their COVID diagnosis, we have to pay overtime to fill the firefighter positions, because someone has to answer the 911 calls," Matty said.
With vaccinations around the corner, first responders and those on the front line will be the first in line to get vaccinated.
Jason French of the West Palm Beach Firefighters Association said it's unclear how many first responders will opt-in to the vaccination right away.
"We're not going to know that answer until it's really here, once we have some studies out there, and some real truth of information and vaccination side effects and such," French said.
Until then, Matty is stepping up safety, spraying a fog of disinfectant in fire trucks and ambulances.
"It almost acts like a bug bomb," Matty said.
Her department is taking any step it can to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases spreading throughout fire stations.