Seminole County Fire Department graduates largest class amid staffing shortage concerns

35 recruits from Seminole County Fire graduate Friday

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – County leaders are concerned about potential first responder staffing shortages due to the recent spread of the omicron variant.

Historically, COVID-19 has had negative impacts on those in the field, leading to many cases and deaths among first responders.

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Seminole County Fire Department is being proactive and getting ahead of those concerns by inducting a new class of recruits.

“That provides that buffer for people being out,” Assistant Chief of EMS Operations Sam Thurmond said. “It also gives us the ability to provide more people in the field.”

Thurmond said this has been the largest graduating class in the department’s 47-year history.

Thirty-five new firefighters will be joining the Seminole County Fire Department Friday. The recruits are being funded by the national SAFER Grant, which helps fund firefighters in growing areas.

According to a spokeswoman with the department, this class even has a high COVID-19 vaccination rate.

Currently, 23 county firefighters are out due to COVID-19, with nine testing positive and the rest showing symptoms.

“At the peak of the latest variant we had about 40 out. Luckily, they have been scattered across all three shifts,” Thurmond said.

While Thurmond said his department can still operate, it’s a different story in Orange County.

“We have seen a significant number of employees test positive,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said in Wednesday’s COVID-19 update.

Included in that number are the county’s first responders. Demings expressed concern for the staff shortages and announced the opening of an employee-only testing site Thursday in response to county employees testing positive.

“Our firefighters, our corrections staff and others really have to still come to work and serve the community to protect this community,” Demings said.

According to Orange County Fire Rescue, 49 firefighters are currently out, but they can still operate.

The department sent out this statement:

“Today, Orange County Fire Rescue has less than 3% of its nearly 1,500 workforce out due to COVID-19. With a large diverse workforce, there has been no negative impact on our operations. All fire stations and accompanying emergency response units are fully staffed on all three shifts.

While this number certainly does not adversely affect staffing, it is not uncommon for large organizations like OCFRD to mirror what is experienced in the community. We continue to work closely with public health officials to monitor the situation.

OCFRD has not had any COVID-19 related deaths.”

Despite concerns about the omicron variant, Seminole County Fire Department recruits, like Robert Soto, say their class is still ready to serve.

“It’s scary, not going to lie, but it’s one of those things where if you take the proper precautions, we will get through it. Our priority is the public safety as well as our safety,” Soto said.

Thurmond said his department does not have vaccine mandate, but his department going forward will continue its COVID-19 protocols and techniques when helping residents.

“We use what a lot of other people use and that is the canary approach where you send one person in with full protective gear that judges a situation to figure out how many people we need, and that’s worked very well for us,” Thurmond said.

Both Seminole and Orange counties are still able to operate with their current staff, but will continue taking precautions to keep their responders healthy.

About the Author:

Brian Didlake joined the News 6 team as a reporter in March 2021.