Beginning last October, 11 out of the 13 career firefighters from VIFR have been working overtime to supply more than 25% of the staff at the Federal Way COVID testing site managed by South King Fire & Rescue and CHI Franciscan.
The service is in keeping with the ethos of firefighters to be there in times of emergencies, said Ben Davidson, president of Vashon’s firefighter’s union.
“Fifteen years ago during Hurricane Katrina, fire departments from around the country were asked to step up and provide essential assistance,” Davidson said. “VIFR responded by sending eight of its first responders to Atlanta, Georgia for several months to work for FEMA. Firefighters are sought in these instances because we work in the field, have medical skills, and have been thoroughly background-checked. We are plug-and-play, and it has been an honor for us to do that again during this unprecedented pandemic.”
Firefighters at the site work outside in tents and wear full PPE: face shield, N95 mask, gown, and two pairs of gloves, with the outer pair changed after every patient contact. The days are long and the site has been busy with an average of 500 to 100 people per day.
In a letter sent to the VIFR, Gordon Goodsell, the Fire Marshal of South King Fire & Rescue, praised the efforts of Vashon firefighters.
“Your firefighters have been a key part of our success during this crisis,” wrote Goodsell. “This ability to serve the public at this time during the pandemic has been so helpful to King County Public Health in determining infection trends. Even more important, it has assisted the public in making health and safety decisions that affect their families and co-workers.”
The need for testing is now starting to be reduced, firefighters said, while the need for workers to administer vaccines is increasing. South King Fire & Rescue is starting its vaccination program and is looking to VIFR to continue to assist with that effort.
“We are looking forward to continuing to help the citizens of King County during this pandemic,” said Davidson.