ORLANDO, Fla. — During the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of firefighters across Central Florida have tested positive or have been exposed to the virus.
Some Reedy Creek firefighters said they are concerned about how the governing body for Walt Disney World handles how its first responders get paid during that time off, which is different from other communities.
The first responders who take care of emergencies at Walt Disney World feel they are being treated unfairly when it comes to COVID-19 exposure.
“It affects morale,” said Ryan O’Reilly, with the Reedy Creek Professional Firefighters Union. “We don’t understand why they want to treat us like that.”
A Reedy Creek firefighter recently tested positive. So out of an abundance of caution, the district asked nearly an entire crew at one of its stations to quarantine.
But the union is upset that those firefighters have to use sick time while they're off. And if they run out, they have to use vacation time.
“We believe that’s a work-related injury,” O’Reilly said. “They decided that everyone needed to be quarantined. The employees had no say in the matter.”
Orlando firefighters who test positive or are quarantined from exposure are given an excused absence with pay.
The city of Orlando stated it provides this benefit so that the firefighter won't be an exposure risk to other employees or the community.
Orange County firefighters have up to 80 hours of what's considered "COVID leave time" through the CARES Act funding, and after that, they are eligible for workmen's compensation.
Reedy Creek officials said its entire operation is different. Right now, calls are down about 90% because the parks are closed. So the risk of COVID-19 exposure is not the same for Reedy Creek firefighters as it is in Orlando or Orange County.
The district reported it's been fully paying about 50 emergency medical service and fire prevention employees to stay home during the pandemic.
But union representatives are worried about what will happen when the parks reopen July 11.
They're afraid some firefighters with minor COVID-19 symptoms may not report it to avoid everyone having to use sick leave.
“Now they know they’re going to impact the whole station and the livelihoods of everyone around them,” O’Reilly said.
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