DMV fire departments grapple with surge in COVID-19 cases

Area fire departments are dealing with a surge in COVID-19 cases that have impacted almost 10 percent of the workforce in D.C. 

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A spokesperson for D.C. Fire and EMS said Thursday that 198 employees are out due to COVID-19 with 141 testing positive and 57 out on quarantine.  

Chief John Donnelly said 117 people have tested positive since last Thursday. 

"The 117 number is far above what we saw in any one week leading up to this," said Donnelly. "So I know this is hard on our workforce." 

He said with almost 10 percent of employees out of the 2,064 in the workforce, the department is enacting mandatory overtime.  

"So far, even with this number out, they’ve been doing a great job of being there to support the citizens and answer the calls and be there to take care of people," Donnelly said. 

He said 87 of those recent positive cases were among vaccinated employees and 30 were unvaccinated. There have been no hospitalizations.  

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D.C. has had a vaccine mandate in place for firefighters for several months, but no one seeking an exemption has been terminated, according to Donnelly.

He said five to seven firefighters who refused to get a vaccine or seek an exemption have been put on leave without pay. Fire officials said 88 percent of the department is partially or fully vaccinated.  

Prince George’s County Fire is also seeing about a reduction of its force with 57 employees out due to a positive test or exposure. PGFD has 1,058 employees, not counting volunteers.  

"While we do have a number of employees quarantining, the residents of Prince George’s County are not experiencing a reduction in service," said PGFD Fire Chief Tiffany Green in an emailed statement. "The men and women of the Prince George’s County Fire and EMS Department remain ready to provide service when called upon." 

A spokesperson said 73 percent of PGFD employees have received at least one shot.

A spokesperson for Fairfax County Fire said it’s also seeing a surge of positive cases that has prompted staffing adjustments and put several units out of service. 

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As of Thursday, the department said it had 42 positive cases and 12 in quarantine out of 1,260 uniformed employees.   

"Due to a surge in COVID positive personnel, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department implemented temporary staffing adjustments on Wednesday, December 22, 2021," said an emailed statement from spokesman Bill Delaney. "The focus of these temporary adjustments is to maintain the highest level of service to our community while balancing out the demand placed on our men and women working each day. Command Staff have reviewed data sets and options to determine the appropriate staffing to achieve the safest balance." 

Delaney said the following units are temporarily placed out of service: Tower Ladder 405, Franconia; Medic 408B, Annandale; Medic 409B, Mount Vernon; Medic 410B, Bailey’s Crossroads. 

He said most of those have two EMS units normally assigned to the station, so one EMS unit will remain in service at each station.


"The goal is to return to normal operations as quickly as possible once a decline in positive COVID cases within the FCFRD is realized," Delaney said. 

He said 85% of the department is vaccinated.