Fire truck

A Victoria Fire Department firefighter is expected to return to work in early May after recovering from COVID-19.

“He wants to get back to work,” said Fire Chief Tracy Fox.

Tracy Fox

Victoria Fire Chief Tracy Fox

April 22, City of Victoria officials reported the firefighter/emergency medical technician had tested positive for COVID-19, making him the first department employee to catch the disease.

As of Friday, the man had recovered from the new coronavirus and was nearing the end of a 28-day isolation, Fox said.

Because of privacy laws, no other identifying information about the firefighter was released.

That firefighter is scheduled to return to work May 7.

County public health officials observed that man and at least four other department employees who had worked in close contact him.

As a precaution, those other employees were asked to isolate themselves for 14 days, although they did not test positive for the new coronavirus, Fox said.

An internal review within the fire department could not determine how the infected firefighter had caught COVID-19.

That investigation could not find any confirmed COVID-19 patients who had come in contact with the firefighter during the course of his work.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some recent studies suggest that COVID-19 can be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.

The CDC also describes the new coronavirus as “very easily” spread at a rate more efficient than influenza but less than the measles, which is highly contagious.

First responders face unique challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic for a variety of reasons, according to the CDC.

They often are required to work within enclosed spaces during transport, make rapid decisions with limited information and encounter people at varying stages of COVID-19.

But the Victoria Fire Department has implemented a number of policy changes to protect the health of its firefighter/EMTs, Fox said.

The department’s staff, who are accustomed to working in close quarters, is attempting to keep at least 6 feet between one another at the fire stations.

“It’s not our natural norm,” Fox said.

Officials also have closed a departmental gym to prevent the new coronavirus from spreading there.

Stations, ambulances, fire engines and offices are receiving an “enhanced disinfection process” that includes the use of a disinfecting fogger, Fox said.

Every staff member is checked for fever twice a shift.

Firefighters are also protecting themselves while on calls. Each time firefighters interact with a patient, they must wear an N95 mask, eye protection and gloves “regardless of injury or illness,” Fox said.

Health department officials also have provided a list of addresses for people confirmed to have the disease so that emergency workers can be better protected during those interactions.

When COVID-19 patients are transported or treated, staff also wear face shields and long disposable gowns.

“We almost treat it like a hazmat event,” Fox said.

Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached jwilcox@vicad.com or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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