KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The people who respond to public emergencies aren’t immune to COVID-19’s impact.
On Tuesday, Kansas City Fire Department officials told FOX4 roughly one out of 10 of their employees are out with COVID-19 or related symptoms, and it’s taking a toll on others.
Their job is challenging enough. Now, KCFD Assistant Chief Jimmy Walker said it’s challenging keeping workers on the job due to COVID concerns.
Walker said as of lunchtime Tuesday, 117 out of the department’s 1,000 workers, approximately, are out sick. He said those employees, which include firefighters and EMS workers, are dealing with the effects of COVID-19, and 40 others are awaiting test results.
“It’s a moving target. Two shifts ago, we lost nine people to COVID, but we got three of them back,’ Walker said. “We knew there were going to be waves. We consult our medical director constantly. We’re looking at the different COVID data coming in throughout the world.”
Walker said 80% of his workforce is vaccinated and boosted, and thus far, no one has been hospitalized with COVID during the omicron surge. The chief said the absences are resulting in a lot of overtime hours being incurred, and employee burnout is rising.
“It’s been a burden on our people. They’ve had to work a lot of hours,” Walker told FOX4.
Public health officials in the metro sympathize with KCFD’s plight. The Mid-America Regional Council’s website reported approximately 272,000 COVID cases had been diagnosed since the pandemic’s onset.
“We’re going to see sick people, both in the hospital suffering from serious outcomes, like death, but also people who just get sick and need time to recover. Those are going to impact our systems and our structures,” Ray Dlugolecki, Jackson County’s assistant health director, said.
“If a paramedic gets in the back of an ambulance with a patient that has COVID, they may not know that. They go back to the station and they’re around other paramedics and firefighters, and in turn, that disease is being spread,” Aaron Smullin, a spokesperson for Platte County’s Health Department, said.
Walker said so far, these staffing shortages aren’t affecting fire or EMS services provided. However, they are costing the department overtime dollars, and there’s a limited supply of that in each year’s city budget.
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