Most Firefighters Back On Job After COVID Crisis

by | Dec 17, 2020

Town, union agree on IOD status for all who tested positive.

As of Thursday, 18 of the firefighters who tested positive for COVID-19 in the days before Thanksgiving had returned to work, according to Fire Chief Bernie Patenaude. Two firefighters remain out, including one who was hospitalized briefly but is home now. 

The number of COVID-positive tests effectively brought the EGFD to its knees in terms of staffing. NK Fire took over Station 2 in Frenchtown for two weeks, until enough firefighters had returned to work to be able to staff both stations and allow the men to get a break. 

One sticking point between Town Manager Andy Nota and the firefighter union cropped up earlier this month, when Nota decided five of the firefighters who had tested positive then tested negative a few days later would not be given injured-on-duty (IOD) status for the period of time they were out. The union filed a grievance, arguing a positive test is a positive test and that little is known about the long-term effects of the novel coronavirus. IOD status would be helpful if, down the road, COVID-19-related syndromes surfaced, with immediate financial implications to the town minimal.

Nota told the Town Council Monday night after more research and a meeting with state health officials last week, he agreed with the firefighters union that all 20 of the firefighters who tested positive for COVID-19 would receive injured-on-duty (IOD) status for the period of time they were out. 

“I used the term ‘false positive’ to describe their status. ‘False positive’ wasn’t applicable, it turns out,” Nota said. “At the end of the process it was clear to me that everyone is still learning.” He added, “I’ll always err on the side of support for the employee.”

EGFD continues to be responding to a lot of calls where the person has either already been diagnosed with COVID-19 or later tests positive. According to the state Dept. of Health, East Greenwich posted 92 new confirmed virus cases last week.

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