Brandon Jones chalks it up to pure luck.
There have been many calls Jones went on as a Madison firefighter and paramedic where he could have been infected with COVID-19.
Like the young boy who broke his arm, whom Jones consoled closely even though the boy wasn’t wearing a mask. He found out later on that the boy tested positive for COVID-19. Jones’ own test, fortunately, came back negative.
“You kind of sign up for a job such as firefighter or police and you know going to these jobs there’s some inherent risks that you’re going to take,” Jones said.
He didn’t expect infectious disease to be among those risks. But he also knew he signed up to risk his life in order to save others.
About 19% of Madison Fire Department firefighters, EMTs and paramedics — 72 of 384 staff — have tested positive for COVID-19, spokesperson Cynthia Schuster said. No new cases have been reported in the past five weeks, which is around when vaccinations began.
Fire departments are the definition of essential work. Jones shows up for every 24-hour shift in a mask. A lieutenant checks his temperature before he can enter Station No. 10 on the city’s North Side.
Last spring, Jones saw a spike in calls relating to domestic violence, suicide attempts and mental health. Autumn brought a surge of COVID-19 cases that overwhelmed hospitals.
“I noticed last year was the first time where there were days on days where every ambulance in the city was dispatched on a call,” Jones said.
The relationship between the city’s fire department and dispatch services has always been important but the pandemic reinforced it.
Dispatchers now ask individuals dialing in about any cough, shortness of breath or recent COVID-19 exposure. The answers to those questions determine what type of mask Jones wears on a call and whether he takes the time to add a gown, goggles and respirator after arriving on the scene, steps that can take precious time away from patient care but may be needed for his own safety. Sometimes patients are asked to meet paramedics outside, if they’re able.
Potential COVID-19 exposure led to an estimated 290 employee quarantines, including one by Jones. He always ends his shift with a shower because he worries about bringing the virus home to his wife and two kids.
But Jones has breathed a little bit easier in recent weeks. He received his COVID-19 vaccine in early February.
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