Fire departments in Naples, Immokalee deal with staff shortage as COVID-19 strikes

Reporter: Gina Tomlinson Writer: Jackie Winchester
Credit: WINK News

The Naples fire chief said Thursday that 17 percent of their department has COVID-19 and the Immokalee Fire Department is down about 50 percent of its firefighters.

The latest crackdown at the fire department: a mask mandate inside the building and the public is no longer allowed inside. But working in close contact with the public every day puts the firefighters at risk.

“We’re not 100 percent certain why there’s been such a surge with our responders,” said Chief Pete DiMaria.

Firefighters are potentially exposed to the coronavirus every day. They clean equipment thoroughly and wear personal protective equipment while on calls, but COVID-19 is proving to be a tough battle.

“We’re taking a pretty decent hit right now,” DiMaria said.

Seven firefighters at Station 1 have COVID-19 right now.

“Before we knew they were positive, they worked an additional shift which went on to infect another group of our personnel.”

Immokalee Fire Department is also facing a staff shortage.

“We’re down to 12 out,” said Chief Michael Choate.

That’s 12 out of 30 firefighters, and Choate said he saw it coming since Immokalee is a hot spot for the virus.

“They’re traveling to and from the fields to work … we see the inability for social distancing,” he said.

“The citizens should not be worried … we were forced to close one truck but we still have a staff engine with three personnel.”

Fire crews in Collier County planned for this and will pull from different departments if they have to.

“Usually these are the months that are a little bit slower for our personnel but we’ve had vehicle fires, boat fires, house fires, so they’ve been working extra hard out there to protect the community,” DiMaria said.

The chief said the biggest way the community can help is to wear masks.

“This is one of the tools we use to mitigate the crisis.”

DiMaria shared this information with WINK News not to worry the public, but he said to make people more aware of the reality. Although both chiefs consider this a pretty big hit to the department, they are well equipped right now to respond.

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