CHICAGO (CBS) — Alarms were going off for some Chicago firefighters this week.
First, there was a COVID-19 outbreak at the Quinn Fire Academy, and now, hundreds are expected to gather in one spot to take a test.
As CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported Wednesday, some firefighters believe their safety is being put at risk, as well as the safety of the public they serve when it comes to potentially contracting and then spreading coronavirus.
It is a concern that Mayor Lori Lightfoot does not share.
Over the next three days, about 1,000 Chicago firefighters will head inside McCormick Place to take tests determining if they can be promoted. That is not including the 100-plus firefighters who took the chief’s test on Wednesday.
These are all make-up exams after a technical fiasco caused them to be canceled in January.
But some firefighters said giving the tests now is dangerous.
“I’m concerned that they’re holding this test when it’s an unnecessary risk to be taking at this time,” said one firefighter, who did not want to be identified for fear of professional retaliation.
The firefighter said the decision to give the tests during the pandemic is especially troubling, considering the 46-case COVID-19 outbreak at the fire academy that forced its shutdown this week.
Testing directives state masks must be worn, but there are still risks in the way the test is conducted, the firefighter said.
“Masks are required when you arrive to the test-taking facility at McCormick Place,” he said. “However, during the actual test, where we will be in rooms of 200 people or more, we will be told to take our masks off to give our responses to the questions.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot countered, “It’s a massive indoor facility, and we’ve taken every precaution possible.”
And Jim Tracy, the head of the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, said that includes individual computers and cubicles with walls for test-takers.
Mayor Lightfoot blames the academy outbreak on candidates making poor decisions.
“Unfortunately, what we saw in the circumstances at the academy – which again, is very different from a testing circumstance – is that people didn’t pay attention. They didn’t listen. They didn’t follow the precaution,” the mayor said.
But the anonymous firefighter said the pressure to take the test may force veteran CFD responders to make poor decision too.
“If people don’t take this test, this could be make-or-break for their careers,” he said.
That is because the tests are, on average, only given about once a decade. The last one prior to the January fiasco was given back in 2009.
However, Tracy said he went inside McCormick Place on Wednesday and checked things out, and believes taking those tests this week is actually safer than being in the firehouse.
While the Fire Department is going ahead with its promotional exams, the Police Department is not going ahead with theirs. Sources told Kozlov that those comparable tests were delayed.
On Wednesday afternoon, a Chicago Police Department representative said the department is on track to give those tests sometime before the end of 2020.