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Organization tracks hundreds of line of duty COVID deaths

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation says more public safety officers have contracted COVID-19 on duty and died from complications.
Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 7:06 PM EDT
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OAK CITY, N.C. (WITN) - Oak City Fire Chief Butch Beach looked through a stack of sympathy cards from across the U.S. on Thursday thinking of the three EMS personnel they lost to COVID-19 in 2021, including former Mayor William Stalls.

“When the mayor would come in, he’d slam the door so everybody know he come if he was here,” Beach said. “It’s been very sad, we’ve had a rough year.”

Stalls died roughly a day before the department lost another one of their own, Lt. Willie Bunch. Both Stalls and Bunch had been on a ventilator at the COVID ICU Unit at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville.

The town’s losses follow hundreds of others nationwide whose line of duty deaths were related to COVID-19.

Firefighters Close Call was created by some fire service personnel to provide information, data and share experiences relative to the safety, health, wellness, survivability of the fire service community.

But what the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation realized was the growing number of public safety officers who contracted COVID-19 on duty and died from complications.

“What none of us anticipated though, was to see these numbers of COVID fatalities,” Ron Siarnicki said. “181 firefighters have died since the start of the pandemic, 78 emergency medical care providers, 525 police officers and 18 public safety answering point communications personnel. That’s a total of 802 individuals have died as a result of COVID complications.”

Siarnicki added they’ve seen a significant number of cases among fire personnel in August and September of 2021, only equal to December and January of 2020 and 2021, respectively.

Firefighter Close Calls will determine how many people out of the reported deaths mentioned contracted COVID-19 while on duty.

In Maryland, they’ll honor 14 firefighters who were considered a COVID line of duty death in October.

“Number one, these people probably died helping somebody else,” Beach said. “Number two, not only does it affect them, it affects their family and also the fire department is their family. The EMS is their family.”

The message of risk may be clear to most people at the department without having to enforce a vaccine mandate.

Beach highlighted the difference between those who died and those who recovered from COVID-19 at the department.

“Two died, and two recovered pretty quickly, and the two that recovered pretty quickly had been vaccinated.”

Still, more can be done to help protect public safety officers. Beach encouraged people to let EMS personnel know if you feel sick or have symptoms of COVID-19.

“We are really pushing that folks be very, very careful and let us know when they’re sick or when they think they’re sick. It helps us to keep our firefighters and EMS folks safe.”

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