JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Three members of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department have tested positive for COVID-19 and 77 have self-isolated, Mayor Lenny Curry said Monday.
All three firefighters were from Station 28 on Hogan Road, Jacksonville’s busiest fire station, but JFRD Chief Powers said one of them had also worked a shift at another Southside fire station.
After the first firefighter tested positive last week, according to Powers, 47 firefighters and paramedics from all three shifts of Station 28 self-quarantined and were tested for COVID-19 while the station was being thoroughly sanitized.
When the firefighters were tested for COVID-19 over the weekend, Powers said, a second firefighter tested positive and then a third. Powers said the third firefighter had also worked a shift at Station 54 on Philips Highway south of the Avenues Mall.
“We had to remove people from that fire station, as well, just out of an abundance of caution to make sure they weren’t exposed or exposed to anybody that we respond to,” Powers said during the city’s virtual news conference Monday.
An entire shift of 10 firefighters from Station 54 has self-quarantined, according to the city.
Twenty other JFRD members have self-quarantined due to other exposures unrelated to the three firefighters who tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number to 77. News4Jax was told the firefighters who did not test positive for the coronavirus but must quarantine were being allowed to stay in a room by themselves at an area hotel.
That’s why it’s critical to have Florida National Guard members running the COVID-19 testing site in Lot J outside TIAA Bank Field, so some firefighters who were helping with the testing can be freed up.
“So previously we had Jacksonville Fire and Rescue folks and JSO officers out there to help process tests," Curry said. “(Florida National Guard members) stepping in so our Fire and Rescue folks, public safety workers can get back to some of the stuff they do on a day to day basis.”
Station 54 was not closed, and JFRD said Monday afternoon that Station 28 -- which gets about 1,000 calls a month, making it the busiest firehouse in the city -- had reopened, with the shifts being manned by available personnel.
“They will use staff that used to work at that station and is familiar with the territory and let them move back in. Some of the firefighters from surrounding stations will get pulled over that know the territory,” said Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters.
Wyse said transferring firefighters to Station 28 and Station 54 won’t take away service from the other stations because they have enough personnel to make it happen, plus they have a new recruit class of nearly 50 new firefighters who just graduated and are ready to start work.
“They would not be required to know the area. They would be the firefighters on the back of the fire engine,” Wyse said.
Wyse added that shifting firefighters from station to station is nothing new, saying it happens weekly and sometimes daily based on who calls in sick and who takes a vacation. But this is different because the department has never had dozens of personnel off the job at the same time because of a virus. That in itself is adding stress to the crews that remain on the job.
“The additional stress is not just going on these calls but going to someone who may be COVID positive,” Wyse said.
As for the status of the three firefighters who tested positive, one was asymptomatic, one was in recovery and doing a lot better, and the third was struggling while battling the illness, Powers said Monday afternoon.