First Responders statewide struggling to cover city due to Omicron

LAWRENCE, Mass. — Police and fire chiefs are seeing firsthand that everyone’s individual decision to stay safe could have a larger impact on their community including whether there are enough available first responders.

With the new Omicron surge, we’ve seen police and fire departments around the country reporting issues. In New York, for example, residents were asked to only call 911 for life or death situations.

We wanted to see if it’s gotten that bad here.

“Not yet, but we could get to that point if the numbers get worse,” said Roy Vasque, Lawrence Chief of Police & Mass Major City Chiefs Vice President.  “I can’t predict that you know, we may have to go to different things. “We’ve talked about doing longer shifts as an example

and first and foremost, we probably collapse all the specialty units and the admin people.”

About 60% of Lawrence PD has tested positive for COVID since the pandemic began but half of that number has tested positive since Christmas.

“We’re a bigger department,” said Vasque. “You may have a small Department with only 15-20 people but for them to lose five or six is significant. It’s not just police and fire as well. City Hall had to close for a little bit.”

50 miles away in Worcester, about 60 firefighters tested positive just last week. That’s more than 15% of the department. Last Thursday, they implemented a daily testing policy for every firefighter before they start their shift and now that number is down to 35. Still, another 27 are pending results and 19 are awaiting their five-day period before they can take a test.

“Since we started that process we’ve had 11 positives on daily testing,” said Worcester Acting Deputy Fire Chief Adam Roche. “Those 11 positives have prevented approximately 65 at work exposures.”

Roche says more departments statewide may follow since firefighters are having to work in close proximity for 24-hour shifts. However, those shifts have become even longer. For them, Omicron has meant overtime.

“The first plan of action we took was on December 12th, when we stopped moving firefighters from station to station,” said Roche. “With no more ship outs, everyone worked at their own firehouse and we backfilled in those firehouses with overtime.”

“Once you start forcing one shift that just kind of continues to roll over and roll over and by the time you get into a three days a week in 10 Days, a lot of people are working a lot of hours,” said Vasque.

Both agencies do say they will do whatever is necessary to continue serving the city.

25 Investigates has done extensive reporting on how excessive overtime like this can diminish their quality of work.

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