The big worry last spring is being felt now at the EG Fire Department, where four firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19 and two others are out with symptoms. Add to that three firefighters out with injuries and three vacancies still in process of being filled and that leaves the EGFD down by 12 firefighters out of a full complement of 36 – one third.
“It’s a tough hit for us so we’ll see,” said Chief Bernie Patenaude Tuesday.
News of the first positive tests came out Monday morning. Patenaude said the men started to get sick over the weekend. The rest of the department has now been tested but Patenaude said he was hoping the virus would be confined to those already positive or symptomatic as they were all working together.
“We’ve cancelled all leave and vacations in the near term,” he said.
Police and firefighters have minimum-manning obligations in their contracts. When soneone’s out, someone either volunteers to work the shift or is mandated to stay on after their regular shift. There is one “floater” per shift – a third firefighter for the ladder truck who will fill in where needed when someone’s out. Because of the reduced manpower, there’s no floater right now.
Patenaude said he’s hired three new firefighters and two have been through the state’s fire academy and are now in town, training locally. They cannot be counted toward manpower until their training is complete sometime this winter. The third new hire is scheduled to begin the next state fire academy training in February.
If there are no additional virus cases, this will be a relatively short-term staffing crunch. Those who are sick could be back on the job in two weeks.
With vaccines on the near horizon now, first responders look to be first in line, according to Town Manager Andrew Nota. He told the Town Council Monday that East Greenwich had committed to being one of the state’s five regional vaccination sites for the COVID-19 vaccine. While nothing is yet final, the latest plan was to vaccinate public safety officials and health care workers first.
Cole Middle School and EGFD Station 2 on Frenchtown Road are being considered as vaccination sites.