NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - The City says one New Orleans firefighter tested positive for COVID-19. But, the president of the firefighters’ union fears dozens more have been exposed to the virus. Now, he’s pleading with the City to stop sending firefighters on medical calls unless they’re life threatening emergencies.
“I got diagnosed with a lower respiratory infection and pneumonia. It took a couple weeks to get tested. When it wasn’t going away, I was still feeling bad, I still had a low-grade fever and finally got tested,” said New Orleans Firefighters Association President, Aaron Mischler.
Mischler says he tested positive for COVID-19.
“I’ve been at home under self-quarantine for two weeks now. I got through it. It’s just like a bad flu, that’s all it was for me. I’m on the mend now, feeling much better, I’m looking to go back to work pretty soon,” he said.
Mischler says the union asked Fire Chief Tim McConnell to suspend the New Orleans Fire Department from responding to medical calls unless they involve life threatening emergencies. Mischler says it’s an effort to slow the exposure rate not only to firefighters but also to the people they come in contact with.
“If someone is having a heart attack, having a stroke or something like that, unresponsive, drug overdose, I understand sending us to those calls where we can immediately step in and provide life saving help,” said Mischler.
Mischler also has concerns about the accessibility to PPE or personal protective equipment for firefighters.
“We don’t have enough of the proper PPE, the protective equipment, like goggles and gowns and masks to really be doing this right now,” he said.
Mischler adds the department only has 480 firefighters on staff. He says that’s the lowest level the city has ever seen. And, he worries the virus could hamper the department’s ability to respond to fire emergencies even more.
“It would be horrifying if half the department got it all at one time and became symptomatic you know, we can’t do that,” said Mischler.
While the city didn’t respond to our question about firefighters responding to medical calls, a City Hall spokesperson did give us this statement:
"We are tremendously grateful to our first responders, and all healthcare professionals, who are on the front lines of responding to this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.
“Only one member of the NOFD has a confirmed positive and that individual does not respond to medical incidents. All of our first responders follow CDC guidance and take the same precautions as other medical professionals throughout the country who are responding bravely to this pandemic.”
Mischler says other firefighters tested positive for COVID-19 Tuesday. But, he did not have an exact count yet.