FDNY Firefighter Tests Positive for Coronavirus, Second Member of Department to Contract Illness

NY Daily News - March 15, 2020

by Esha Ray, Graham Rayman and Thomas Tracy

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An FDNY firefighter has tested positive for coronavirus, the second member of the department to contract the illness, officials said Saturday.

The firefighter, a captain assigned to Battalion 43 in Coney Island, Brooklyn, contracted the virus while off-duty and through “community exposure” and not through a patient, the FDNY said.

“While asymptomatic, this member worked three tours in the last week, but did not respond to any medical calls and had no contact with patients. The member, and 33 additional Firefighters, will be self-quarantined and the firehouse will be decontaminated. Currently, 99 total FDNY members are self-quarantined," a department spokesman said Saturday.

Mayor de Blasio said the firehouse would be cleaned and up and running by Saturday evening, and firefighters who had no direct contact with the sickened captain would take over once the station is decontaminated.

“The member worked from Sunday through Tuesday, went home Tuesday with symptoms and tested positive late yesterday,” de Blasio said at coronavirus update briefing Saturday.

The stricken captain and the quarantined firefighters are all resting at their homes, officials said. The station house he’s assigned to houses battalion offices as well as an engine company and a ladder company, sources said.

An FDNY EMT tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week. The EMT was not exposed to the virus through patient contact but is believed to have contracted the illness from someone who recently traveled abroad, the department said.

In an effort to sideline any further spread, the department is rejiggering firefighter and EMS member schedules “to increase social distancing where possible, limit member to member contact within our ranks," an FDNY spokesman said.

The rescheduling “will not impact our operational response, only the scheduling of our workforce,” the spokesman said.

On the EMS side, all training and re-certification courses have been suspended for the next month, according to sources. No medics will be moved from EMS station to station to prevent any COIVID-19 spread.

Members are also being asked to keep an extra uniform in their vehicle for an immediate change if they come across someone with coronavirus symptoms.

With a second member coming down with the potentially deadly disease, Gerard Fitzgerald, the president of the FDNY’s Uniformed Firefighters Association wants the city to provide expedited testing to any member who exhibits symptoms “to ensure the safety of all our members from the coronavirus.” Right now the city has no testing plan in place for first responders.

“We will not allow our members to be put at risk,” Fitzgerald said. "The health, safety, protection and well being of our firefighters is our paramount concern."

Jake Lemonda, the president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said that his office is working with other FDNY and EMS unions, the city and healthcare experts to “take actions to protect the entire membership.”

“This is a very serious situation that needs to be monitored closely while all firefighters and fire officers continue their duties protecting the citizens of New York,” Lemonda said.

A department spokesman did not comment on calls for expedited testing, but said that any FDNY member who feels they are coming down with coronavirus symptoms should contact the department’s health services division immediately.

“Appropriate actions are taken from there,” the spokesman said.

Since the beginning of the year, FDNY medical calls have increased by 5%, officials said. While calls about patients with respiratory illnesses are down slightly, the FDNY has responded to 350 “fever/cough” calls since the end of January.