KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The same day a Kansas City, Missouri, Fire Department captain who died after contracting COVID-19 was laid to rest, the department's chief reiterated that the virus is a "real threat" to first responders.
"Our members are going to continue to put their lives on the line," KCFD Chief Donna Lake said. "You never know what the end may be for those employees, especially in the case of this pandemic. You can't see it, can't taste it, can't touch it. It's not like walking into a burning building, where you have a threat of building collapsing on you ... or some other issue that is typically what you'd think a firefighter would die from. When it's one of these viruses or diseases, it's hard for people to understand."
Family and friends of Capt. Robert “Bobby” Rocha, 59, gathered for a private service earlier Monday at McGilley Funeral Home followed by a graveside service at Mount Olivet Cemetery. KCFD members who were unable to attend the services lined the streets near the cemetery for a funeral procession.
Lake said Rocha was always willing to share his knowledge with newer firefighters and employees.
"Even if you made a mistake, it was a learning experience (or) moment instead of him coming down on you," Lake said. "The fact that he took the time with the younger firefighters to show them the ropes, he's just somebody that, even outside the fire department, the stories of the various walks of life he had friendships with and events and people that he did things with is just a testament to his character and the kind of guy he was."
Rocha tested positive for the virus after being exposed to a COVID-19-positive person in the line of duty.
Lake said having contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 is "unavoidable in some circumstances" because of the number of patients department members interact with on a daily basis.
"It's something people need to be cautious about and concerned about and need to protect themselves from," Lake said.
More than 100 people attended a drive-thru visitation on Sunday to pay their respects.
Rocha is one of three KCFD members who have died in the line of duty due to COVID-19. EMT Billy Birmingham died in April, while Communications Specialist Scott Davidson died Nov. 22, one day after Rocha.