In Darien, firefighters must wait for COVID vaccine

Darien EMS Post 53 member Kelsey Olvany received her COVID-19 vaccine in early January. Olvany, a Darien High School student, is a first responder, driver and VP of Student Affairs for Post.

Darien EMS Post 53 member Kelsey Olvany received her COVID-19 vaccine in early January. Olvany, a Darien High School student, is a first responder, driver and VP of Student Affairs for Post.

Contributed /

DARIEN — The state’s rollout process continues to frustrate some in Darien, as firefighters have yet to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Though other towns included their fire departments in Phase 1A, Darien’s three volunteer fire departments — Darien, Noroton and Noroton Heights — are not classified as medical first responders, thus currently do not qualify to get the shot.

Other first responders like the Darien Police Department and Darien EMS-Post 53 are eligible to receive the vaccine.

The town’s Health Department Director David Knauf said that in Darien, police respond to medical emergency calls along with EMS, while the fire departments do not. In some communities, both do. This is what classifies one as a medical first responder and not the other.

Joe Larcheveque, director at Post 53, said the state designates each level of EMS responder for a community.

“Darien Police Department is the assigned first responder agency for Darien and responds to every medical call along with Post 53,” Larcheveque said.

However, the distinction has still led to some frustration on the part of at least one Darien firefighter.

Former Assistant Chief and current fireman Shane Smith expressed his disappointment, saying he acknowledged that not all firefighters are EMTs but added that “many of us are.”

“Darien’s firefighters are on the scene with medical first responders to assist them as needed, during medical emergencies such as car accidents and others. The risk is no less to us than any other first responders who put themselves on the line to assist in the case of an emergency” he said.

The town of Darien is following the governor’s directive concerning vaccine eligibility for Phase 1a, Knauf explained.

“Firefighters are by any definition essential workers and will be included as Phase 1b is expanded, but they are not considered to be ‘medical’ first responders,” Knauf said.

The town has complete rosters of Darien firefighters that will be entered into the vaccine scheduling program VAMS as soon as they are eligible, according to Knauf. Once that is done, firefighters can sign up to be vaccinated.

Noroton Heights Fire Department Chief Zach McEwan had no comment on the matter, while other fire officials could not be reached for comment Monday.

Police Chief Donald Anderson said all officers are trained as either Emergency Medical Responders or Emergency Medical Technicians, training and certification that goes well beyond “basic first aid.”

“Officers can administer oxygen, apply and deliver shocks via an AED, perform CPR, stem significant bleeding, maintain airways, bandage wounds, assist in childbirth delivery, splint fractures, assist in the administration of medication (such as nitroglycerine, Epi-pens, etc.), apply tourniquets in grave, life threatening situations and more,” Anderson said.

Smith said while the fire department may not all be EMTs, “the risk is no less to us than any other first responders who put themselves on the line to assist in the case of an emergency.”

“COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate and we don’t have the option to, nor would we want it, to decline to respond,” he added.

Meanwhile, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson recently told the Darien Chamber of Commerce she hoped the next tier of Phase 1b might begin closer to the end of February.

Stevenson added that the town is eager for the governor to provide information about how he plans to prioritize the rest of the 1.3 million individuals who are in Phase 1b, beyond the current priority of those 75 and older,

“I certainly advocate for our teachers and firefighters to be in the next tier of 1b. I don’t envy the decisions the governor must make given the limited vaccine supply,” she said.

Knauf said as the town waits for an eligibility schedule to be provided by the state, he has heard from residents eager to receive vaccines.

“There is considerable concern being expressed by those over 65, others with underlying health concerns, firefighters, teachers, transportation workers, public works employees, food service workers and so on who want to be vaccinated, sooner rather than later,” Knauf said.

“While the term ‘patience’ may seem overused at this time, it really is necessary,” he said.