First Tallmadge firefighters/EMS test positive for COVID-19

Krista S. Kano
Akron Beacon Journal
The City of Tallmadge has reached an agreement with the Tallmadge Part-Time Firefighters Association on a three-year contract that provides annual raises.

Tallmadge's Fire and Police departments have been generally lucky when it comes to testing positive for COVID-19, with only six positive cases ever, according to the chiefs, including the two recent cases from the city's fire department. 

Fire

After nearly 11 months of contact with COVID-positive patients, the first two full-time firefighters/EMS recently tested positive for the virus, Fire Chief Michael Passarelli reported Tuesday. 

"I've had a series of part-time people that work at other departments who tested positive from their other job, and of course we restricted them from working here, but this is the first time my own folks have been positive," Passarelli said. "The way we've been hauling, we did a great job."

According to Passarelli, Tallmadge squads started transporting COVID-positive patients starting in March, and in June transported 28 positive patients out of nursing homes in 30 days. Now, he said, they are transporting at least one a day from the general public. 

"There's so many potential exposures that our luck ran out," he said. "We didn't have any quarantines as a result. It just worked out that when they became symptomatic, they were at home after their shift. Of course they’re now dealing with loved ones and their families, and that's an issue."

As a result of the increased contact, Fire Station 1 and Fire Station 2 are having as little contact with one another as possible. They are also continuing to disinfect the rigs between patients, use the proper personal protective equipment and go through rigorous decontamination procedures when they come in contact with positive cases.

The fire department is also conducting the 15-minute antigen testing, but have not yet caught any positive cases that way.

Around 60% of fire personnel eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine chose to get the first dose shortly after Christmas and are scheduled to receive the second at the end of January. Tallmadge Fire's vaccination rates are higher than those of the county, which saw about 40% of eligible public and private EMS workers getting the first dose.

Police

Out of 26 Tallmadge police officers, only three have tested positive, as well as one civilian employee, Chief Ronald Williams reported Tuesday, all of whom have recovered and are back at work. 

Two of those individuals contracted the disease outside of work, but "we were concerned a couple times that we would have to quarantine a shift." Ultimately, that was determined to be unnecessary. 

Williams attributed their low rate in part to wearing masks, social distancing, regularly sanitizing vehicles and only having one officer per car. 

"Knock on wood, we've been lucky. The people who've gotten sick, we've been able to keep them isolated and haven't had a spread in here. Overall we have 50 employees, so that's only 8%," he said. 

Williams did not know when his officers would be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and said he did not yet know if his department would mandate it, as they do for the MMR vaccine. 

He added that he has received calls from residents complaining that officers are not wearing masks, but, he said, Tallmadge officers are not required to wear a mask when they're alone in their car or when they are on an active call. 

"We're concerned about miscommunication that could lead to an inappropriate use of force or an unnecessary use of force, so we put a premium on accurate communication," Williams explained. "You know how much you lose without being able to read someone's face and expressions, and that's a bigger concern for me than COVID. A lot of people don't appreciate that, but most people aren't police chiefs."

Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, kkano@thebeaconjournal.com or on Twitter @KristaKanoABJ.