SWFL firefighters mourn loss of one of their own to COVID-19

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Credit: WINK News.

Firefighters in Southwest Florida are mourning the loss of their fellow first responder, Anthony “Tony” Christensen, who died of COVID-19 Tuesday after more than a month of treatment. Christensen was a beloved member of the fire rescue community, who served more than 20 years in the region.

First responders face an even tougher battle during COVID-19. There are new dangers with every call.

We spoke to firefighters Tuesday about how they’re trying to stay safe.

Firefighters live by protocol with safety at the center of everything they do. The death of one of their brothers to COVID-19 hit them hard.

Christi Kulwicki is the public education officer with North Fort Myers Fire Control & Rescue Service District. He explained the impact a death such as Tony’s has on their community.

“Oh, it’s devastating,” Kulwicki said. “I mean 22 years in the fire service, and you pass away from a terrible virus.”

Fire Chief Larry Nisbet of Bayshore Fire & Rescue was also hit hard by the loss.

“At first, I was like, ‘Is that right?” Nisbet said. “I was like, ‘Is this correct?’ And then after getting a few phone calls and emails, I was like, ‘Yeah, this is actually happening.’”

It’s a grim reality for so many families locally and nationwide.

“We’re dealing with a firefighter COVID death,” Nisbet said. “It’s a majority of the firefighters we’ve heard, the symptoms have been extremely mild, and then you have one, and it’s not. And I think that’s gonna be the hardest part is getting her head wrapped around is why was this one different.”

At Bayshore North Fort Myers fire departments, both consider themselves fortunate, with no cases of COVID-19 so far.

And, in the wake of their brother’s death, it’s a reminder to keep themselves and one another safe.

“When it could possibly be a COVID case, we wear full gown, gloves with every call again also, and the [N95s] and the goggles,” Kulwicki said.

“Every call that we run to right now with an EMS call that we run with if we’re working with a patient, we have an [N95] mask on, and we put a surgical mask on the patient,” Nisbet said.

The two firefighters we spoke to said they’re planning on helping escort Christensen to the funeral home, which is expected to happen Tuesday night.

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