North Texas first responders hit hard by omicron variant

As North Texas continues to see a big spike in new coronavirus cases from the omicron variant, first responders are also starting to see an impact. 

Dallas Fire-Rescue is experiencing the most workers out of the office at one time since the pandemic started. 

"As of now, we have 181 frontline firefighters who are in quarantine right now," said Dallas Firefighters Association President Jim McDade.

DFR does daily testing for every shift. 

Despite the CDC lowering the isolation time from ten to five days, DFR is currently still doing a 10-day quarantine. 

"I do know that the department is about to change that, and we're going to go to five full days of quarantine and then a negative test to come back to work," McDade said. "And of course, not being symptomatic anymore."

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McDade says right now the shortage of workers is not impacting response time, saying more are working overtime. But that can’t last forever with regular shifts being 24 hours at a time. 

"That's going to be the breaking point for us is going to be how long can we sustain the overtime that our members are working," he said.

The Dallas Police Department says last week they had 44 people out of the office. 38 of the 44 are officers. DPD employees are also going by a 10-day quarantine period. 

In neighboring Tarrant County, about 40 Arlington firefighters are out with COVID. 

Arlington Fire Chief Don Crowson says that makes up close to 7% of their workforce. His department is only doing testing when a firefighter has symptoms. 

Fort Worth Fire could not provide an active case count but says they do daily testing and about a dozen firefighters test positive each week. Fort Worth Fire is also still going on a 10-day quarantine period. 

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While it sounds like common sense to some, McDade wants people to know do not call 911 to get tested. 

"The health care system is beginning to get inundated with this. The hospitals are full and just because you're feeling a little symptomatic," he said. "The answer is not to call 911 to go to the hospital to go get tested."

181 is the highest number of staffers DFR has had out with COVID at any time during the pandemic. But the union says none of them have had to be hospitalized.

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