ORLANDO, Fla. – About 540 field personnel work for the Orlando Fire Department and a little more than 40% are fully vaccinated, according to a District Chief, however, they’ve constantly had make changes to their protocol to keep the community and themselves safe.
“We continue to be as safe as possible, so we don’t spread the virus. Having people in the public getting vaccinated definitely helps in the process,” said District Chief Felix Benitez.
Even though firefighters were among the first groups eligible for the vaccine, Benitez says less than half of the field personnel at the Orlando Fire Department are vaccinated.
“It’s just the flu shot. Not everybody gets the flu vaccine and it’s been around for a long time. Over the last few years the amount of people getting it has increased. It is an education process and a slow one,” said Benitez.
“There is a population that says ‘this is new, not a lot of information, I’m worried about the long term effects,’ so some of them are like ‘I’ll give it some time,’” said District Chief Juanita McDonald.
In the meantime, firefighters in Orlando have had to change their routines in a fire station that feels more like home.
“We have that family dynamic. With the recommendations of being six feet apart and with masks, we had to make drastic changes to spread people apart. We’re eating at different rooms, we can’t sit at the table together,” said McDonald. “Part of that comradery we talk about is eating together, and that’s a morale booster for us and talking to each other and everyone became very isolated.”
Orlando Fire Chiefs said during the pandemic calls went down becaue people stayed home. They said calls are getting closer to pre-pandemic levels and their teams of firefighters and paramedics have had to adapt. Cleaning and sanitizing rescue vehicles after each call and using extra personal protective equipment.
The Chiefs say as more people get vaccinated, they’ll be able to relax some of their rules. They said they are looking forward to having those family dinners again here at the fire house.