‘They’ll have confidence that their first responders are going to be there,’ first responder says about being priority to receive COVID-19 vaccine

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Healthcare workers, nursing home residents and staff, and first responders are at the top of the list for the COVID-19 vaccine, whenever it becomes available.

Jeff Bagwell, spokesperson for Rural Metro Fire – Knox County, said he and his crews are ready.

“I’m ready to roll my sleeve up and take it right in the arm. I’m ready,” Bagwell said.

Bagwell said it is important for first responders to be a priority of receiving the vaccine because they need to be available to respond to emergencies.

“This is the front line. We’re on the front line. We’re in people’s homes with, at times, multiple positive COVID cases in one home,” Bagwell said.

Bagwell said being exposed isn’t necessarily their biggest concern; it’s what happens after they possibly become exposed to the virus.

“You know if we have kids, school-aged kids who go to school, now you’re talking about spreading that into a school, into a classroom. The list and the domino effect could go on for a long time,” Bagwell said.

Part of that domino effect includes fewer firefighters being able to work.

Right now, Bagwell said firefighters are moving from station to station in order to staff their trucks.

“Well, if they were exposed (at one station), and now they’re going to another station, where maybe they carry the virus to another station, now you’ve infected that station, and that area of Knox County,” Bagwell said.

He said keeping their trucks staffed is their biggest problem, so receiving the vaccine will help ensure the community is taken care of.

“I think the community will be impacted because they’ll know and they’ll have confidence that their first responders are going to be there,” Bagwell said.

He also hopes the vaccine would alleviate some of the stress the firefighters, and other first responders, are under mentally.

Usually, between shift changes, crews could relax with each other, debrief a little and solve problems as a larger team.

“These guys now, they’re not allowed to stay. When it’s the end of their shift, there’s a shift change and you get in your car and you leave. Grab all your stuff and you go. And it’s hard,” Bagwell said.

Bagwell said he doesn’t know much about the logistics of receiving the vaccine.

However, he does believe after being vaccinated, they will most likely have to continue with COVID-19 safety precautions, at least until they know everything is safe.

“Even though we’ve had the vaccine, I don’t think you’re going to see firemen or first responders running around without masks on. I think we’re still going to have to do that, and that’s good. We want to do that if that helps protect the community, or that helps give a sense of security to the community, then we want to be the ones to do that,” Bagwell said.

He said there are other aspects about the vaccine they have to think about, besides what it’s going to be like when they receive it or after inoculation.

“I know Dr. Buchanan was talking with the county commission about having to buy freezers and dry ice and those kind of things, which has brought on new concerns for us, because dry ice in and of itself is a hazardous material. So we have to manage now the potential for what that can develop,” Bagwell said.

Bagwell said he’s not worried about being one of the firsts to receive the vaccine.

In fact, it’s their duty to be the first.

“We need to be the first ones, we want to be the first ones to set an example,” Bagwell said.

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