As if they didn’t have enough to contend with, Sun City first responders had to deal with the coronavirus first hand as summer kicked off.
The Sun City Fire Department had 21 field personnel test positive for the COVID-19 virus since March. But the infection was not spread out over the four months since then. One person tested positive in March and 20 tested positive in June alone, according to Ron Deadman, Sun City fire chief.
“It got pretty hairy there for a while manning all shifts,” the chief said.
In addition to those who tested positive, five more personnel tested negative for the virus.
“It has all been in field personnel, there has been no one from the office and administrative staff,” Mr. Deadman said.
The fire department was back to full staff by the July 21 fire district workshop meeting, according to Mr. Deadman. All infected personnel went through the isolation process and were retested and cleared for duty.
Mr. Deadman implied officials knew the source of the infection that impacted so many members of the in field staff, but said he could not share it because it would be a HIPPA violation.
The Sun City Fire Department has 87 in field personnel on staff. With vacations and other approved time off, that leaves about 75 members available to be scheduled for shifts, according to Mr. Deadman.
Fire department officials have intergovernmental agreements with at least two other agencies for shared personnel in cases of staff depletion. But overtime was still necessary to fill the gaps in June. Mr. Deadman said that cost the department $58,000 in overtime. Some of that could be reimbursed through grants, he added. Department officials are seeking a grant from the CARES Act, but Gov. Doug Ducey representatives indicated they have released all the funds they plan to. However, Sun City officials are working with Maricopa County District 4 Supervisor Clint Hickman to gain some reimbursement from the county.
“But they are in the same boat as we are with tight funds,” Mr. Deadman said. “I think Mr. Hickman is doing the best he can for us.”
Another hurdle to getting CARES Act funds is that they are designated for cities and towns with emergency response systems. Since fire districts are not connected to cities and towns, they generally are not considered for the funds, according to Tim Wilmes, Sun City fire board member.
However, there is a push for federal legislation to include districts in these types of grants, he added.
“I have talked to Rep. Kevin Payne and Sen. Rick Gray from the state legislature and Rep. Debbie Lesko and Sen Kristen Sinema to see about getting their support,” Mr. Wilmes said.
Sun City fire officials are also working with colleagues from Arizona Fire & Medical Authority, Daisy Mountain Fire District and the Buckeye Valley Fire District to lobby for CARES Act funds and the legislation to include fire districts in federal grant disbursements.