FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Fort Wayne’s police and fire departments are reporting a significant increase in absences due to COVID-19.
Citizens shouldn’t worry about an impact on services due to the absences, though, the departments said.
The trend mirrors Allen County reporting nearly 600 cases a day over the last week, according to Dr. Matthew Sutter, the county’s health commissioner. At the pandemic’s height last fall, the number of reported cases was around 450, Sutter said Wednesday.
“We’ve had two to three positive cases per day for the last few days. We continue to keep our stations manned by bringing firefighters in off-duty and paying them overtime,” the fire department’s Deputy Chief Adam O’Connor said. Currently, 14 firefighters are out sick with the virus.
“We had to shut down some of our apparatus. If we get to that situation again, our goal is to keep every station with at least one fire truck and four firefighters in it. We have never had to go less than that and in the last year and a half, we have not shut down any apparatus.”
O’Connor said 31 firefighter personnel have been out with the virus since Christmas. At the height of the pandemic, the 350-person fire department had 49 firefighters out during one weekend.
The same goes for the Fort Wayne Police Department with 485 employees, although COVID numbers were not given.
Jeremy Webb, FWPD’s public information officer, said the department is offering buy backs or hire backs where an officer works an additional shift and gets paid overtime. Webb said the public shouldn’t worry that the overtime pay will lead to higher taxes.
Specialty units that require officers to work as a team have been especially hard hit, Webb said, although the police department doesn’t want to issue numbers of absences or which specialty units are seeing a high number of cases right now.
If the COVID numbers go higher and more absences occur, the police department will modify runs where there’s no suspect on scene. These runs typically include thefts, fraud, forgery, other financial related crimes where no suspects are on the scene, vandalism, some protection order violations and other service calls that can be taken over the phone or through the FWPD records department, Webb said.
Webb called the policies “fluid.” They are based on CDC guidelines. A policy that may help with manpower issues is the reduced quarantine period from 10 to five days.
City-wide, employees, including police and fire, were offered a $200 incentive to get vaccinated resulting in more public service employees getting vaccinated, Webb and O’Connor said.
Capt. Kurtis Letz, with FWPD Internal Affairs, is keeping police officers informed of policy changes. At home COVID-19 tests are not accepted for approved sick time. Officers are encouraged to get rapid or PCR tests from physicians’ offices, pharmacies and the Board of Health.
Officers who do test positive must complete a contact tracing form, providing information that will be turned over to risk management, Letz said.
Since the beginning of the year, the Allen County Sheriff’s Department has had six people out – four confinement officers, one police officer and a civilian employee, Steve Stone, the department’s public information officer, said. No COVID cases have been reported at the Allen County Jail, where strict quarantine procedures remain in effect. Confinement officers wear masks and are temperature tested when they arrive at the jail.