Curry: 200 firefighters self-quarantine after 14 test positive for COVID-19

Curry: 200 firefighters self-quarantine after 14 test positive for COVID-19
Jacksonville, JFRD working together to diversify first responders

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Update June 27, 6:45 p.m.: Every JFRD firefighter will be tested for COVID-19. Testing started Saturday after 14 tested positive for the virus. The city said more than 200 firefighter are in self-quarantine.

COVID-19 tests are underway on everyone in the Jacksonville Fire Department after 14 firefighters tested positive for the virus. Mayor Lenny Curry tweeted out the news earlier Saturday evening. He said, “while this could lead to more of our first responders sidelined through quarantine, my top priority remains slowing the spread of the virus.”

Right now, 214 firefighters are sidelined. There are approximately 1,550 firefighters, so about 14% of the department is off the streets right now.

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Action News Jax asked Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters if this is going to impact the department’s response. His response: “No. I don’t think anybody on the streets will see an altered response.”

Wyse said the other firefighters are covering for the ones in quarantine. The city also said JFRD has more than 100 retired firefighters who could get called in for replacement, but they would still have to go through some re-training.

Action News Jax asked Wyse if he thinks they will need to bring in those retired firefighters. He said, “I don’t think so yet.”

JFRD now has new mandatory rules – as soon as firefighters get to work, they will have to wear a mask all the time. From the moment they get out of their personal cars to the moment they put on their gear, and leaving shifts, masks will have to be on. The only exception is while in full fire gear with face shields and helmets.

Action News Jax asked Wyse why these rules weren’t in place earlier during the pandemic. He said, “The numbers didn’t reach that level, we weren’t getting large numbers. We were pretty low compared to other large stations across the state.”

While some may be concerned about the number of firefighters off the streets right now, Wyse said the people of Jacksonville shouldn’t be worried.

“There will still be highly trained, highly professional firefighters responding to every emergency, and the proper numbers and those calls will be treated any other day due to the fact that the men and women have stepped up and are willing to cover for their brothers and sisters that are down right now,” Wyse said.

The city said some firefighters will be able to go back to work Sunday after being quarantined for two weeks.

Original Story, June 26: Mayor Lenny Curry tweeted an official statement Friday night that said 14 JFRD firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19, and 200 other firefighters are self-quarantining as a result of “contact guidelines established by the CDC.”

Action News Jax spoke with the Mayor’s Office, who said firefighters are now required to wear masks from the moment they get out of their person car to the moment they put on their helmets and fire gear. Beds in fire stations are spaced 6 feet apart to maintain social distance.

JFRD has more than 100 retired firefighter who could be called in to replace the quarantined firefighters, but they would need to go through re-training before they can go to work, which could take several days.

JFRD has not called up retired firefighters yet, but it is a last resort option to keep citizens safe.

Curry’s full statement on 214 quarantined firefighters

“I have been briefed by JFRD Fire Chief, Keith Powers, that 214 firefighters are now in self-quarantine as a result of contact guidelines established by the CDC for COVID-19. As of this evening, 14 have tested positive for the virus. I’ve been closely monitoring the health and safety of our fire fighters since Chief Powers first informed me earlier this week that two had tested positive for the coronavirus,” Curry said.

“Our ability to protect and serve the citizens of Jacksonville is reliant on keeping our first responders healthy. This means following CDC guidelines in the event they come in contact with anyone who tests positive for COVID-19,” Mayor Curry added.

“Weeks ago, I asked the City Council to pass emergency legislation to allow recently retired fire fighters to return to work, if necessary, to assist with the pandemic. We are grateful to have this tool available and are confident that this, in addition to the recent directive issued by Chief Powers outlining additional safety protocols, will allow us to protect our first responders and continue to provide services to our citizens.”