SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — Hundreds of Cuyahoga County firefighters and EMTs lined up Monday for the first of three scheduled COVID-19 vaccination clinics aimed at protecting those on the frontlines of protecting the community.
"We know about 15 to 20% of our calls since the pandemic and especially now are COVID-related," said Shaker Heights Fire Chief Patrick Sweeney.
The chief said that's added stress to an already stressful job. Sweeney said countywide about 450 firefighters tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.
"These guys, when they go home, their wives are worried about this," said Sweeney. "They're worried about them bringing this home."
It's why Monday's vaccination clinic in Shaker Heights is something some firefighters said they've waited for since March.
"I'll be honest with you, the last few days, knowing this was coming, I've been laying low," said Shaker Heights Assistant Fire Chief Jim Heath. "The last thing I wanted was to get sick right before this."
Monday's clinic is one of three scheduled this week for Cuyahoga County first responders.
The county's health commissioner said it's about protecting those who protect the community.
"They never know what they're up against at any given moment," said Commissioner Terry Allan. "So it makes sense we protect them because it keeps them working and on the job. The last thing we want is a whole shift of EMS folks off because then they're off the street and they're not there to protect us."
By the end of the week, around 1,000 firefighters and EMTs are expected to get vaccinated.
That included 48 of 51 Shaker Heights firefighters.
The department's chief said he's anxious to see the impact, hoping it returns a sense of normalcy to the department.
"We've been playing defense for the last 10 months and so this is a hugely offensive move on our part to be able to reverse the effects of this right now," Sweeney said.