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Columbia County Firefighter Tests Positive for Coronavirus: Deep Issues Raised

Observer Graphic | Covidman: Pete Linforth/Pixabay, Firefighter by EliasSch/Pixabay

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Columbia County has made County firehouses off limits to all but its firefighters after a County firefighter at the Fort White firehouse tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Columbia County firefighter who tested positive for the coronavirus did not show up on any County coronavirus statistics because he lives in another county.


An Observer source said that sometime around last weekend a Columbia County Fort White firefighter's daughter was being tested for the coronavirus. At first, the firefighter did not share the information with his fellow fighters. This did not sit well with them.

The test results had not come back and he was told not to go to work.

At about the same time, another firefighter's mom got sick. One of the fire department brass told him to go home until the test came back about his mother.

According to County Risk Manager David Kraus, four firefighters from Ft. White, the ones who had been around the firefighter whose daughter was tested, got into one car to get themselves tested.

The source said the group got into the car and headed toward Jacksonville. After they were informed that they could be tested in Columbia County, they turned around and were tested there.

One of the Fort White firefighters tested positive, but was asymptomatic.

According to the source, the brass of the fire department was indecisive, "didn't know what to do," and decided that other than the firefighter that tested positive, the other three firefighters in the car should come to work.

Fire Chief Jeff Crawford told your reporter, "When we found out that he tested positive - it was probably around 8:30 Tuesday night - that's when I sent him home and I sent all the ones that were in the vehicle with him - I sent all of them home at the same time."

Midweek Conference Call With the County Health Department

Midweek, there was a conference call with the Columbia County Department of Health.

It was reported that Tom Moffses, the head of the Columbia – Hamilton County Health Departments was on the call with two experts, along with members of the County Fire Department, the County staff, and the 911 director. The experts answered the questions and engaged the participants.

The Health Department said the County needed to shut down the firehouse and deep clean it before they let anybody back to work.

According to Chief Crawford, Serve Pro came to Fort White on Thursday morning and disinfected the firehouse.

Chief Crawford said, "I went down there personally and wiped down the interior of every one of the fire trucks. I'm not going to tell our guys to do anything that I wouldn't do. The station was opened up about lunch time on Thursday."

There were differing opinions regarding what was said during the phone conference, with one side saying that the Health Department claimed the firefighter, who was asymptomatic, was not a threat to the other firefighters because he hadn't had prolonged exposure to them, and the other saying the Health Department never said that.

It was also reported to the Observer that the Health Department did not recommend testing the other firefighters at the Ft. White firehouse.

Other Issues

Your reporter asked Risk Manager Kraus, "It is my understanding that the County has banned everyone from the firehouses except the firefighters, which means no wives, no kids, no visitors. Is that true?"

Mr. Kraus said it was.

Your reporter asked, "Are the properties posted so that folks know that the property is off limits?"

Mr. Kraus answered, "That's a good idea. I will see that that gets done."

Firefighters & Sick Leave

It was reported to the Observer that one of the main issues of the firefighters is going into quarantine and using up all their sick time because of the pandemic.

Whether self-imposed or mandated by a coronavirus test, the first 14 days of quarantine is paid for by the US government (read: the taxes of the people of the United States). This was incorporated into the first $2 trillion coronavirus bill: H.R. 6201, Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Mr. Kraus said that firefighters sent the County the legislation, adding that congress passed a bill that only allowed for 14 days.

Your reporter asked, "What if they need to be quarantined again?"

Mr. Kraus answered, "That's what they have sick leave for."

Mr. Kraus said that the Health Department requires that if one tests and the test comes back positive or negative, the requirement is 14 days of quarantine.

On Wednesday, April 8, the CDC announced new guidelines for critical employees to come back to work.

Mr. Kraus said that if a firefighter acquired the coronavirus in an on the job incident, and could prove it, they would be eligible for workman's compensation.

The firefighters say that this could be hard to prove. There is concern among some firefighters that the County "doesn't have their back."

There is also concern in the ranks that firefighters might go to work in spite of suspicions of the coronavirus in order to assure an income to support their families.

Mr. Kraus said, "The County wants to protect all its employees, including its firefighters and we expect them to take every precaution as addressed by the Health Department and the CDC."


The Observer contacted the Columbia County Health Department Director Tom Moffses. He answered the phone and said he would call back after he finished his conference call. He didn't.

Chief Crawford concluded his conversation with your reporter at about 8:30 pm on Saturday evening. He said, "Everyone that has been tested has come back negative, except for the one firefighter at the Fort White station."

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On April 13, 2020, a former fireman/medic wrote:

It is only logical that the administrators, directors and supervisors of the county should be doing anything and everything to help our first responders. Period. These people are there 24/7/365 for the communities they serve. Extra time off waiver for this emergency. As a former fireman/medic I know it is all too easy to be hurt or get sick on the field.  For goodness sake help these people ANY way we can.  Thank you.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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