KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Following the third COVID-19-related death in the Kansas City, Missouri, Fire Department, city and department leaders spoke to the severity of the pandemic in the metro and for first responders.
Communications Specialist Scott Davidson, 45, died Sunday after contracting the virus in the line of duty. The day prior, Cpt. Bobby Rocha died as a result of COVID-19. Earlier this year, EMT Billy Birmingham lost his fight against the virus.
KCFD Chief Donna Lake said during a press conference Sunday afternoon that Davidson, Rocha and Birmingham all were tenured KCFD employees.
"We grew up together in this department," Lake said. "We work together. We fight together. We live together. We eat together. We do everything like families do at work. And it's just -- there's no words for the loss of EMT Billy Birmingham and Fire Captain Bobby Rocha and Communications Specialist Scott Davidson."
The department, according to Lake, has done a lot to keep its employees safe.
"The whole idea is how do we slow our pace down and protect ourselves as responders and protect the people that we are interacting with every day?" Lake said. "We had to make drastic changes, like shutting down our fire stations and our public education modules that we do on a daily basis, just to help keep our responders safe. Just to help keep the public home. And that doesn't mean that we're not going continue to respond in the proud and professional way that our employees do on every single day that they're at work."
Department members responding to medical calls began wearing additional personal-protective equipment, such as masks and gowns, in March at the start of the pandemic.
KCFD also has implemented a mask mandate, which states that employees who test positive are not allowed to work. Employees who are determined to be close contacts through contact tracing continue to work but must wear a mask for their entire shift.
KCFD Battalion Chief Pete Knudsen, also secretary treasurer of Local 38 Chief Officers Union, spoke at the press conference in place of the union's president, Mike Galvin, who is among those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
"This is a time to be vigilant," Knudsen said. "It's not a time to let our guard down."
About 300 employees, according to Lake, would have been in quarantine if the mask mandate was not in place.
Lake said there are 73 employees who currently have COVID-19, and KCFD has given roughly 1,200 COVID-19 tests overall.
"The biggest way we can honor people, and the biggest way that we can help prevent this spread of COVID, is to do all the things that that have been recommended," Lake said. "Wearing your mask, washing your hands, social distancing and really shortening and creating a little pot of people that you trust and that you can be around. And if that is just your immediate family for now, that's OK."
Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas said 1,300 new COVID-19 cases were reported Saturday in the city, and that the city’s total number of cases is more than 70,000.
“Please keep our soldiers safe. Our paramedics, our firefighters, our nurses, our police officers,” Lucas said. “Everyone in our city. Your family, your relatives, your friends, and please make sure you wear a mask.”
Tim Dupin, president of the Greater Kansas City Fire Fighters International Association of Firefighters Local 42, said first responders are proud to serve the Kansas City community.
"We didn't lose Scott Davidson. And we didn't lose Bobby Rocha. And we didn't lose Billy Birmingham," Dupin said. "They gave their lives in service to this city."
Former firefighter Geoff Jolley told 41 Action News he's heartbroken to learn of the two recent deaths, and he knows how tough these losses are to this first responder family.
"I think it’s been tremendously difficult for all of the family and friends of the fire department," Jolley said. "It’s a very close-knit group, a brotherhood and sisterhood."
It's a virus that's tearing up that bond, and in hopes of stopping the spread, Dupin issued a plea to the community.
"We ask you and the citizens of Kansas City to help us help you, wear a mask, protect your families with social distancing and honor the rest of us and your workers by doing so," Dupin said.
KCFD are working on funeral arrangements for the two men.