11 Ohio county fire chiefs roll up their sleeves for the vaccine

The chiefs want both their department members and the public to follow their example when the vaccine becomes more widely available


John Futty
The Columbus Dispatch

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Ohio — First responders in fire departments throughout Franklin County come in close contact with so many COVID-19 patients that they are at substantial risk of being infected themselves.

There's no better example of that risk than the experience of the Whitehall Fire Department.

Franklin County assistant health commissioner Alexandria Jones gives a COVID-19 vaccine to New Albany Plain Township fire chief Jack Rupp on Monday, Dec. 28, 2020.
Franklin County assistant health commissioner Alexandria Jones gives a COVID-19 vaccine to New Albany Plain Township fire chief Jack Rupp on Monday, Dec. 28, 2020. (Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch)

Of its 39 firefighters, officers and chiefs, 22 have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March. At one point in October, the department's ranks were so thin that it dropped from three 24-hour shifts to two 36-hour shifts, Fire Chief Preston Moore said.

Despite the risk, some emergency medical service first responders are hesitant to take the vaccine, according to suburban fire chiefs who received their first shots during a media event this week.

"Even in our business, some have been resistant," said Moore, one of 11 fire chiefs to get the vaccine Monday afternoon. "It's real important that we show them that we believe the vaccine makers know what they're doing, that this is safe and we're willing to get it."

Similarly, the chiefs want the public to follow their example when the vaccine becomes more widely available.

"Hopefully, they won't be hesitant when their time comes," Moore said.

Fire and EMS personnel are outfitted with personal protective equipment when responding to medical emergencies, but the vaccine "is one more level of protection that we're giving our firefighters," Westerville Fire Chief Brian Miller said. "Now we're asking the public to get vaccinated to keep our firefighters safe, but also to keep our community safe."

Steven Stein, president of the Columbus Fire Fighters Union Local 67, said the local chapter and the International Association of Fire Fighters strongly support the vaccine for their members and are working to educate them about its importance.

"Those who are reluctant are in the minority," said Stein, who received his first dose of the vaccine Sunday. "It's mostly because of misunderstanding or not fully understanding the vaccine."

Franklin County Public Health received about 4,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine in its first allotment and began administering it to first responders from the suburban fire departments on Monday. The Moderna vaccine is one of two currently approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

About 100 doses were administered the first day, with another 540 fire and EMS staffers expected to receive the vaccine each day for the rest of the week, said Mitzi Kline, a county public health spokeswoman.

Columbus Public Health Department received about 4,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine and has been providing it since Saturday to Columbus and Westerville fire and EMS personnel at the Ohio Expo Center, said Kelli Newman, a city health spokeswoman.

Everyone who receives the Moderna vaccine needs a second shot about 28 days later, Kline said.

Firefighters, paramedics and EMTs are included in the first group of people in Ohio to receive the vaccine, part of what is known as tier 1A in the state's vaccine distribution plan.

Plain Township Fire Chief Jack Rupp said he took part in Monday's media event "to show our firefighters that I believe in the process, that the vaccine is safe."

He said some firefighters, like many outside the profession, have heard "so much media attention about conspiracy theories" regarding problems with the vaccine that they are taking a "wait-and-see attitude," Rupp said.

"I understand people being concerned," he said. "We just have to get factual information out and, in time, everyone will see it is the right thing to do."

Rupp said he isn't aware of any fire department in Franklin County that is mandating the vaccine for its employees, "but if things continue to escalate, I suppose that could happen."

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(c)2020 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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