Unions call on city to provide tests for first responders after Brooklyn firefighters test positive for COVID-19

Unions representing New York City’s firefighters called on the city to test its first responders for COVID-19 at a press conference Monday.
Photo by Ben Verde

The unions representing New York City’s firefighters are calling on the city to administer tests to its first responders, as the number of civil service members testing positive for coronavirus grows. 

Two members of New York’s Bravest, as well as one EMT, have tested positive in Brooklyn, while at least 100 other firefighters remain under quarantine citywide. Union leaders say their members need to be tested to prevent community spread, which could lead to further public safety risks. 

“If the fire department goes down, that puts lives in danger in numerous other ways,” said Gerard Fitzgerald, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association at a press conference on Monday. “If we start losing firehouses because of the quarantine, if we get too many members that are exposed to the disease, that could be catastrophic.” 

Fitzgerald argued that all first responders should be tested by the city, so they know right away who needs to be quarantined. 

“All first responders should [get the test],” he said. “We’re the ones on the front lines, we need to keep ourselves safe so that we can be there for the public.”

In Brooklyn, 35 firefighters are under quarantine after working alongside a smoke-eater who tested positive, but not one of those firefighters has received a test because they are not showing symptoms. Union officials say those firefighters should receive tests because they still could be infected. 

“The biggest thing we can do is limit the cross-contamination of each other and focus on the job which is at hand,” said Jake LeMonda, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. 

Due to the scarcity of COVID-19 test kits, tests are being limited to those who are particularly at risk and are exhibiting symptoms. 

“We have to focus on the folks who have the clearer symptoms and the folks who are in the greatest danger and the folks who have a nexus to travel or an existing positive case,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on March 12, further noting that the city wants to do wide-scale testing but is unable to without help from the federal government. 

Along with firefighters and EMTs, police personnel have tested positive for the virus as well, including NYPD Transit Chief Ed Delatorre.