EAST CHICAGO — Beds were removed from an East Chicago Fire Department facility, sparking a response from the president of East Chicago Professional Firefighters Local 365.
However, East Chicago Fire Chief Anthony Serna said he removed the beds on Friday as safety precaution.
“It was out of an abundance of caution,” Serna said. “Firefighters sounded the alarm of coronavirus cases spiking so I looked deeper into it — looking into, ‘In what ways were we vulnerable?’ We had beds that are spaced less than 4 feet apart. Removing them was a way to keep everyone safe and keep the virus from spreading among firefighters. It removes the temptation to take off the mask and lay down near someone else and possibly spread the virus.”
East Chicago Professional Firefighters Local 365 Dave Mata called the move “retaliation.”
“I guarantee it’s directly related to the story we put out exposing the mismanagement of the latest COVID incident on the department,” Mata said.
On Oct. 15, the fire union released a statement warning of an “outbreak” of COVID-19 cases at East Chicago Fire Station 4. The union accused the fire department administration of not quarantining the first Station 4 firefighter known to have been exposed by someone in his household.
City Attorney Carla Morgan previously said the city’s practices are keeping up with CDC guidelines, which allow firefighters with exposure to return to work once they get tested while wearing a mask at all times. Full compliance with the CDC and city mandate to wear N-95 masks should have prevented transmission among fire union members, Morgan said.
The city is also investigating how the transmissions among the department occurred if there was “indeed full compliance” with mask wearing, social distancing and sanitization, she said.
Serna said one firefighter with coronavirus still remains quarantined and out of work. The rest of the crew have since returned in the past week after testing negative for coronavirus.
Serna disputed Mata’s claims of retaliation motivation, saying that because the firefighters now work eight-hour shifts, there is no need for beds as there was when there were longer overnight shifts.
“We are just trying to find ways to keep them safe,” Serna said. “I am praying for the firefighter who is still out with COVID, that they can recover soon.”