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KCFD captain who died from COVID-19 was involved, engaged in community

'People looked up to him like he was Hercules'
Posted at 9:03 AM, Nov 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-26 00:10:38-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas City, Missouri, Fire Captain died in the line of duty from COVID-19.

Local 42, the KCMO firefighters union, tweeted out the news Saturday morning.

KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas shared his condolences, saying that 59-year old Fire Captain Robert "Bobby" Rocha had been battling COVID-19 for several weeks.

"Captain Rocha was somebody who was very involved and engaged in the community," Lucas said. "My heart just goes out to all of them. I think it just shows the seriousness that we have with COVID-19, the serious threat that it is to our first responders."

Rocha, according to a spokesperson with the KCFD, started with the department in 1991. He was with Station 18.

KCMO Fire Chief Donna Lake said in a tweet Saturday afternoon that Rocha is the second COVID-19-related line of duty death for the department. The first was EMT Billy Birmingham, who died in April.

"This is a difficult time for us all," Lake said.

One of Rocha's hangout spots was the Outpost Bar and Grill in the Northland. His friends, including Ross Distefano, said it was a shock to hear of his death.

"I was heartbroken, my heart was just like, seriously, this town lost a super super guy," Distefano said.

David Cox, owner of Outpost Bar and Rocha's friend, said the fire captain was a mentor and a role model.

"People looked up to him like he was Hercules or something, man," Cox said. "The fighters that he’s trained, they’ve come in here, I’ve met them, he’s taught them respect."

Friends told 41 Action News that Rocha loved to ride his motorcycle and sing karaoke. He was a friendly man who would do anything for anybody.

The IAFF compiles data of how firefighters in the U.S. and Canada are affected by COVID-19. This is as of Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.

"He gave so much of himself to the firefighter community and then outside of that he gave everything as well," Cox said.

Rocha was exposed to COVID-19 in November while on the job.

According to the department, 176 KCFD employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since March. With Rocha's passing, there are now 73 active cases.

As of Friday, the Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department said that 72 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 and five have been hospitalized out of 436 employees.

"It doesn’t really hurt you to wear the mask or social distance just do it, safe a life, just do it," said Cox.

KCFD said they are working on funeral arrangements.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Capt. Robert "Bobby" Rocha's age.