The ‘unseen’ threat: Surge of COVID-19 cases affecting Texas firefighters

Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Michael Glynn had a long day.

He attended a funeral for a beloved retiree of his department, then went to the hospital to be with the family of another retired firefighter.

“Speaking to a firefighter that is dying in a hospital bed and their family is being told they have 15 more minutes? That’s sad,” he said. “It’s sad times for firefighters.”

Glynn, the President of the Fort Worth Professional Firefighters Association, said it’s always been a dangerous line of work. He is also a trustee for the Texas State Association of Fire Fighters, and as a long-time firefighter himself, he knows loss.

“But a lot of those hazards are things that you can see and feel and touch and hear,” he said, noting that the unseen threat of the coronavirus is what concerns him most.

A 20-year veteran of the Austin Fire Department, Rodney “Rod” Kelley, lost his battle with COVID-19 and died on August 29.

Funeral held for Austin firefighter Rod Kelley in San Antonio.
Friends, family and co-workers gathered for the funeral held for Austin firefighter Rod Kelley in San Antonio.

Family and friends gathered to lay him to rest on Tuesday in San Antonio.

“In his 56 years on Earth, Rod touched the lives of many people,” Austin Fire Chief Joel Baker told the crowd gathered at Coker United Methodist Church. “We heard so many stories about what a good friend, great man and fantastic firefighter he was.”

“If you had a kid in your house, and your house was on fire, Rod was going in. He had absolutely no fear,” Baker went on to say.

According to the state association, Kelley was one of 11 firefighters who have died across Texas from COVID-19. Several of these deaths occurred in just the last two weeks. They said around 50 firefighters nationwide have died.

Glynn commends the Austin and Dallas fire departments for instituting rapid testing for employees at the start of each shift. As first responders in the field, fire crews often have no idea what kind of call they are walking into — even when a department has protocols for identifying positive COVID-19 patients.

“We sometimes have great information and sometimes have very limited information,” he said.

He used the example of an automobile accident, where someone reports breathing problems — but no cause.

“That’s where it is incumbent upon our firefighters to be using the precautions and using the equipment that we have for personal protection,” he said. “Us wearing our masks — the patients may not always have their masks on — but we need to be wearing our masks so that can protect ourselves, protect our crew and at the end of the day, protect our families, so that when we go home, we aren’t bringing the coronavirus back to them.”

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