Rantz: COVID infects 29 staff in 3 days at already-depleted Seattle Fire Dept.
The omicron variant of COVID-19 is ravaging an already understaffed Seattle Fire Department, placing nearly 30 staff in quarantine just ahead of Christmas. The revelation comes despite the entire department being fully compliant with Mayor Jenny Durkan’s vaccine mandate.
At least 29 Seattle Fire Department operations staff members are in quarantine after testing positive for COVID. The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH confirmed the positive cases include firefighter/EMTs, paramedics, and chief officers.
The department is now straining to fill open shifts, asking for volunteers to take on overtime this weekend.
Omicron hits SFD hard
The department’s assistant chief of operations sent an all-staff email Wednesday afternoon, informing them that nearly 20 staff members were out with COVID.
“Much has changed since we were able to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends in the fire stations. We have had 19 cases of COVID affect our ranks in the last 72 hours. This jump in cases is consistent with the rapid rise of infection rates in King County and across the country. I feel especially bad for the 19 members, as they will need to isolate from their families during what should otherwise be a joyous time celebrating the holidays,” Assistant Chief Brian Hastings wrote.
By 4 p.m., the number of infected grew to 29.
It’s unclear if this is due to the highly transmissible omicron variant, though it is now the dominant COVID strain in the United States. While it spreads easily and apparently evades the vaccine, studies suggest it leads to mild symptoms similar to a cold.
Staffing suffers ahead of the holidays
SFD staffing has been dire.
Due to the vaccine mandate, the SFD has routinely struggled to staff its units. This past weekend, the department was down 19 staffers. It’s unclear if they were part of the COVID-positive staff that are in quarantine. The department confirmed that it removed two aid cars, one ladder truck, two engines, and one air unit from service as a result.
But they also had to change the configuration of other units to keep the department from semi-functioning. SFD took three engines that are regularly staffed with four firefighter/EMTs and converted them to aid cars staffed with two firefighter/EMTs.
Ahead of Christmas, it could be just as dire. A staffing officer sent an all-staff email asking for volunteers to take on 24-hour overtime shifts.
“There are several full shift overtime opportunities on Friday 12/24/2021, Saturday 12/25/2021 and Sunday 12/26/2021,” the email read.
Vaccine mandate made the staffing situation worse
Even though the remaining SFD staff is fully compliant with the vaccine mandate, staff are still getting COVID. Mayor Durkan insisted the only way to keep city staff healthy was to ensure they were fully vaccinated. It is why she did not — and will not — allow for testing.
The vaccine never prevented infection from the delta variant. Now, it’s highly likely it does little to protect against omicron. The department, as I reported this week, is now reverting back to policies originally implemented before a vaccine was even available.
The vaccine mandate, in the end, made the city less safe. It took firefighters/EMTs out of rotation and right now, SFD is in dire need. A spokesperson for SFD tells the Jason Rantz Show that the department will have “more to share” on how badly staff is impacted — and what’s being done — in the coming days.
Update from Seattle Fire Dept.
“Because all of our employees authorized to work in Operations are fully vaccinated, current CDC guidance does not state that individuals must quarantine due to being around a COVID positive individual. Current department policy is for members to wear masks while in fire stations (and of course on medical responses) and we are reinforcing social distancing measures as well (when possible). Additionally, due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in our community, on Dec. 18 the department implemented a new policy which allows all SFD members to voluntarily take a department-funded rapid COVID-19 test when reporting to work. We have taken this step to help prevent this highly transmissible variant from infecting our members, so they can continue to provide critical care to the patients we serve in our community. Many of our recent positives were detected through this voluntary testing, which also puts a mechanism in place for testing those who were in close contact with others who tested positive.”
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