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COVID-19 cases continue to grow in first responders, putting strain on department

Fire Fighters’ Union Says Manpower Affected

HOUSTON – COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Texas and Harris County as the state reopens. How much of a toll is that taking on first responders?

According to the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, it’s beginning to strain manpower at the fire department.

Since March, over 500 HFD employees have been quarantined and 75 have tested positive for COVID-19.

HPFFA president Marty Lancton said before the pandemic struck, about 300 firefighters left the department due to pay and benefit disputes with the city. Now, he said due to COVID-19 cases, the losses have created a serious manpower problem.

“It should be alarming that you have the number of firefighters and paramedics that are not on the front line if you will and we have been supplement working the apparatus with a tremendous amount of overtime,” Lancton said.

Houston Fire Department officials were unavailable for comment Monday.

At the Houston Police department, 11 new cases were confirmed over the weekend, raising the total of Houston police employees testing positive to 90 since March 22.

So far, 46 officers have recovered and returned to work. Police officials say the illnesses have not caused any manpower problems.

By far, the hardest hit public agency has been the Harris County Sheriff’s Department whereas of Friday, 332 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and two deputies, Juan Menchaca and Sgt. Raymond Scholwinski have died from the virus.

Officials said 15 other employees are currently hospitalized, while 254 have recovered and returned to duty.