The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Washington December 14, and more than 30,000 doses have been administered to the first recipients. Included in those receiving some of the first COVID-19 vaccines are members of the Valley Regional Fire Authority.
Critical for VRFA
First responders with patient contact are in the first wave to receive the vaccine. This is not the standard in every state. “For my guys, it’s critical,” said VRFA Chief Brent Swearingen.
“If you look at the GSA COVID-19 testing site, we have five to six people there all day, every day,” continued Swearingen. “All they do is potentially come in contact with infected people. There are some days where over 20% of people that go through [the site] are positive.”
VRFA has had several exposures and members diagnosed with COVID-19. Every time there is an exposure or someone is diagnosed, “it’s devastating to the crews who have to come back to work for those people who are quarantined or isolated,” said Swearingen. “It has this cascade effect, and we’re trying to do this extra stuff – like the testing site.”
Reflecting on this fall, Swearingen admitted that had members needed to isolate during the wildland fires, it could have been a problem for the department. “We’re just not that big of an agency that we can absorb 30 or 40 people being unavailable for work because of COVID-19,” said Swearingen.
Recommended, Not Required
While crews were battling the Sumner Grade fire in Washington, VRFA Health Officer Paul Strong provided mutual aid in California. Strong’s position in California was to manage safety precautions for COVID-19 prevention in the camps. Back in Washington, Strong is now managing the vaccination process for VRFA.
Members were provided with information to make an appointment to receive the vaccine. While strongly recommended, the vaccine is not mandatory for VRFA employees. It is unknown how many members of VRFA will receive the vaccine. “A list of operations personnel to the University of Washington. The support staff will follow the line personnel,” said Strong.
Strong shared that “overall, [the line crews] are pleased and [feel] fortunate to have the opportunity to get the vaccine.” The vaccine will not, however, change health and safety procedures or assignments within the agency.
Several crew members have already received the first dose of the vaccine, with others scheduled to receive theirs. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s a long tunnel, but there’s a light,” said Swearingen.
Puget Sound Fire members get COVID-19 vaccine with Seattle – King County Public Health: