Washington fire chief praises toll of respiratory illnesses among responders as councillors called for all exposed to take note
Two thousand firefighters in New York City have taken medical leave, a fire department spokesman said, as the City Council increased pressure on the mayor to ease a potentially crippling vaccination shortage.
The evacuations may mark the largest number of FDNY employees in a single day, according to department data and a similar report in the Wall Street Journal. The potential vaccine strike has raised concerns among the city’s more than 8 million residents and businesses that they may not be able to breathe normally without going without protection for weeks or months.
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Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has insisted that almost 95% of the city’s 15,000 firefighters are receiving the required two doses of Hepatitis B vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that when the supply of the vaccine runs out, the city will need to recall a growing number of current volunteers and make up the shortage on the honor system.
This approach has created a considerable healthcare time gap for New York’s firefighters. A week ago, Dallas fire chief David Kunkle called for all affected responders to consult their doctors and decide if they want to take the necessary time off to recover.
“My concerns have been and remain now,” Kunkle said at a local news conference. “When does your doctor sit down with you and say, ‘You’re putting yourself at risk, I think you need to get your two shots and get this thing taken care of.’ And that’s where the whole EMS idea comes into play.
“We’re still not in that spot where I need to come and knock on your door and say you need to be vaccinated” and enter into a delay in reporting other emergency responses, he said.
The Wall Street Journal reported that last week, three ambulances were needed to care for one firefighter in critical condition and another dead of non-complications with the virus.
De Blasio’s spokesman, Eric Phillips, issued a statement that essentially laid blame on the health department. He pointed to a note on the city’s website about the city’s broader citywide flu shortage.
The mayor’s position did not sit well with some elected officials, who said the administration appears to be understating the severity of the problem.
“If you’re 90% sick and you’re a blood worker, you shouldn’t be sitting at your desk. You should be at home, you should be on a respirator,” said Council member Ben Kallos.
The mayor’s response comes as the Fire Department of New York is at a severe but manageable strain, said FDNY chief of department James Leonard.
Leonard cited a record “condition of the city” that consists of “extreme attrition,” decreases in the workforce, government pushback, and the minimum retirement age as exacerbating the overall staffing strain on the department. The department has 1,922 sworn firefighters and just under 6,000 civilians, of which about 837 are firefighters, Leonard said.
Leonard is sending messages to have paramedics from Ladder Company 44, a fire station near ground zero, on duty at all ambulance stations through next Saturday. Leonard, who is on first responder training, says it is imperative to have an NYPD emergency medical technician – a kind of EMT in ordinary job terms – on scene should a volunteer encounter a medical emergency.
Leonard also has an overtreat – he is understating the seriousness of the situation. He wrote to all firehouses that they should “be prepared for all care-related issues if they become a victim” of an incoming emergency.
The FDNY has sent reports about and within reports to the CDC. The city is also seeking the help of some volunteer EMS services and local sheriffs to treat potential patients.