CHICAGO (CBS) — All training has been put on hold for Chicago Fire Department recruits, after a COVID-19 outbreak shut down the Quinn Fire Academy.
The Fire Department confirmed that the academy, at 558 W. DeKoven St., has been shut down.
Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford released the following statement:
“The health and safety of Chicago’s firefighters, paramedics and recruits are our utmost priority. That is why following multiple confirmed COVID-19 cases at the Robert J. Quinn Fire Academy, the Department has temporarily suspended training at the facility while we work to thoroughly clean and disinfect the entire facility. Furthermore, the Department will clean all employees’ work areas and any vehicles and equipment used.
“To prevent the spread of COVID-19 in all facilities, the Department continues to work with the Chicago Department of Public Health (CPDH) to ensure social distancing and public health guidelines are strictly enforced and that all individuals abide by them. The current class of recruits will continue their training through remote learning. All individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 will remain in isolation while any close contacts will quarantine. No individuals who have tested positive have required hospitalization, and we will continue to monitor their condition. The Department will provide an update when training resumes in the facility.”
As CBS 2’s Jermont Terry reported Monday night, the firefighters’ union said if the virus halts the academy for too long, it could lead to bigger problems for Chicago residents.
While remote learning will be in place for current recruits as Langford noted, the training that goes on at the academy requires hands-on experience.
And if that doesn’t continue, Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 President Jim Tracy said it could put a strain on CFD resources citywide.
Tracy said the closure needed to happen.
“I’m obviously against with a lot of what the city does on a regular basis,” he said. “However, this is the right thing to do.”
Tracy supports the move in particular after two firefighters died from complications of the virus this year.
“We have over 275 of our members right now that been COVID positive,” he said.
While safety remains a priority for those firefighters on the streets and the recruits, Tracy is adamant the training at the academy must resume for the good of the entire city.
“It’s an economic thing as well as safety,” he said.
The union said on average, 250 firefighters retire annually, it takes six months to complete the academy, and due to the pandemic, recruits are limited to only a maximum of 100 per class.
“At the end of the day, they’re going to have to have to rehire people,” Tracy said.
And while the city has no plan to stop all training at the academy, Tracy said if new firefighters don’t replace the retirees, taxpayers will pay both monetarily and with overworked firefighters responding to calls.
“It’s just going to cost the taxpayers more money by not getting these classes through, and unfortunately, this is first time out of the last four classes this has happened,” Tracy said.
Of the nearly 50 recruits who tested positive, none, according to the city, needed to be hospitalized.
There was no official word Monday night on when the academy would reopen.