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16 Buffalo firefighters test positive for COVID-19

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More than a dozen Buffalo firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the city's fire commissione and the union that represents firefighters.

Buffalo Professional Firefighters Local 282 were first to disclose confirmed cases, releasing a letter Tuesday morning that stated at least 14 firefighters had tested positive, while more than 50 members of the Buffalo Fire Department were showing symptoms consistent with the infection. They have been placed on administrative leave and ordered to self-quarantine.

By early Tuesday afternoon, Fire Commissioner William Renaldo raised the number of confirmed cases to 16 firefighters, including one who was hospitalized but was scheduled to be discharged that day.

Renaldo also reported 40 personnel, from various departments, were on administrative leave.

"We're sending people home who have the sniffles, have a cold, have a sinus infection, things like that, just to be overly cautious," Renaldo said.

He further explained that those placed on administrative leave have not tested positive for coronavirus.

"We have a workforce monitoring program where individuals come to work at 0800 in the morning. You're tested and if they're showing any signs or symptoms or simply feel ill, we're sending them home for a period of seven days of self-isolation, the last 72 hours of which, if they're asymptomatic, they're allowed to come back to work," the commissioner said. "They're retested again at six o'clock in the evening, so they're tested twice within the 24 hour period."

In a statement, the union said despite the development, "the members of Local 282 remain ready, willing and able to answer the call to serve our community in the face of this pandemic whenever, and wherever, we are asked to do so."

"We're keeping the curve low," said union president Vincent Ventresca. "It's going to make its way through any community. And, you know, our members are being affected and we thought getting that information out was important. But you know, we're going to be able to serve the community and serve the citizens. That's not going to be an issue."

On Monday, during Mayor Byron Brown's briefing, it was revealed 10 members of the Buffalo Police Department had tested positive for COVID-19. About two dozen additional officers were monitoring their conditions under self-quarantine. Fire commissioner Renaldo explained the steps his department was taking to protect firefighters and those they serve, but didn't reveal any positive cases. WBFO asked Ventresca if it bothered him that no numbers about the number of cases among fire personnel had been released.

"There's been some confusion as to why that is. We thought that it was important, with the understanding that yes, our members are being infected and yes, we have members who have symptoms. But we haven't had a reduction in service," he replied. "We'll continue to serve the citizens."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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