Police, fire on the list

For public safety officers in Dakota County, the light at the end of the tunnel is here.

Members of the Eagan Fire Department were among those who received the first round of vaccines last week at the Dakota County Western Service Center in Apple Valley.

Eagan Fire Chief Mike Scott said it was not mandatory for the department members, but more than 90 percent took the shot.

“I’m really happy,” Scott said. “It was just like getting the flu shot. For a couple days after, my arm hurt maybe a little more than a typical shot, but it’s pretty minor. If it’s going to prevent me from getting COVID and we can get back to normal, it’s all worth it.”

The Dakota County Public Health Department is rolling out the vaccine for COVID-19.

The first doses of COVID-19 vaccine were being given to people working in health care settings and people who work and live in long-term care facilities as well as emergency responders.

Rosemount police and fire department personnel were also in line to get it this week, Rosemount City Administrator Logan Martin said.

“Regardless of whether it’s EMS, police officers or the fire department, they’re all going to the same scene,” Martin said. “Police often beat the ambulance to the scene, so they’re on the list too.”

It’s a voluntary vaccine for city employees, Martin said.

“Next for us is public works, those who work on the critical utility infrastructure, if they want it,” Martin said. “They’re the people who do the water and sewer, the essential services.”

Some public safety departments have struggled mightily with COVID-19 infections. Police officers and firefighters can’t really work from home.

Last month, Eagan Police Chief Roger New said about 20 percent of his staff were impacted by the virus in November.

One member of the department was hospitalized and another missed 38 days of work.

Scott said the Eagan Fire Department has gone the past 10 months without any major outbreaks.

Two members out of 39 full-time firefighters and 22 part-time firefighters tested positive for COVID-19 during the pandemic.

“We’re really fortunate,” Scott said. “I think it’s because we went to a high level of (Personal Protection Equipment) right away. We’ve been really cautious. We have N95 masks, EMS gloves, big gowns. We had a decontamination area at the station.”

If they were called to an incident where someone was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, the fire department doubled up their precautions.

“We did a lot of testing, and we had an on-duty fire medic trained to do department-wide internal COVID screenings,” Scott said.

After the final round of vaccines, Scott said members of the fire department will be able to take off their masks while in at the station for the first time in months.

It will be a minor relief from an extremely busy year for the Eagan Fire Department.

The Eagan Fire Department was expected to take primary responsibility for medical calls in April. The department has been transitioning to a full-time model during the past few years, and 2020 was the year it was fully implemented.

Due to the pandemic, the fire department started taking the calls over in March, which was a month sooner than expected, and just a few weeks after 19 new firefighters were sworn in.

“The timing was horrible,” Scott said.

In 2020, the Eagan Fire Department responded to about 5,000 calls, which is about 1,100 more than in 2019 (3,824 calls), and more than twice as many as in 2015 (1,698).

Eventually the vaccine will be available to everyone, according to Dakota County Public Health’s website.

It will be free.

No one will be required to receive the vaccine by the government or public health.

Vaccines will be given in two shots 17-21 days apart.

The Eagan Fire Department will receive the second round during the first week of February.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the total cumulative COVID-19 vaccinations given in the state is about 147,645. That includes about 8,076 people in Dakota County.

Vaccinations in Dakota County started Dec. 29 for 30 Homeland Health staff and 20 Dakota County Public Health staff who are now vaccinating others.

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