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COVID’s impact on Zapata County Fire Department

Of the more than 300 positive COVID-19 cases in our neighboring county Zapata, three of those were first responders with the fire department.
Published: Sep. 21, 2020 at 10:19 PM CDT
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LAREDO, Tex. (KGNS) - Responding to COVID calls as a firefighter is one thing, but battling it yourself is another.

One Zapata firefighter posted updates to his social media out about his experience.

“Unfortunately this morning I got my results, and I tested positive for COVID-19," he said on July 31.

“I spiked a fever of 105.5," he said on Aug. 1.

And on Aug. 2: “I slept the whole night with no fever. First night in days.”

Lieutenant Daniel Arriaga has been with the Zapata County Fire Department for 15 years. He’s also a constable and arson investigator.

Often times, he works seven days a week with some of those shifts lasting 24 hours.

In late July, he was forced to take some days off after testing positive for COVID-19.

“I was in my bed, couldn’t get up for a good three or four days," Arriaga said. "They did want to hospitalize me twice, but I really went against it. I shouldn’t have, but I did. Thank goodness the outcome was ok.”

For 10 days he had shortness of breath, loss of appetite and high fevers that would reach 106 degrees.

“I have had strep throat, the common flu. I’ve experienced fevers before, but nothing like this. This was a first for me,” he said.

Arriaga spent multiple days laying in bed and waking up sweating through the night.

“Once I started getting the fevers, and they started going up and going up, I knew it was different. I felt it. My body was telling me it was something different.”

Arriaga wasn’t the only first responder at the fire department to test positive. Two others did as well.

“Being that we’re a small department, it hurts to lose people," said Fire Chief Juan J. Meza. “That put a crunch on one of my shifts, so I had to bring people from other shifts to cover for them.”

They also changed some of their operations in response to the pandemic.

“Now if we go out to a call, my guys have to suit up with coveralls, face mask, face shield, gloves," Chief Meza said. "We do that on every call because you don’t know who’s positive and who’s not.”

They have even had to cut out bonding time while off the clock.

“A lot of us would hang around each other off duty, cook outs, now we don’t really do those things, especially after going through what we went through in our shift in our department," Arriaga said.

He has returned to work after testing negative twice, but he says he hasn’t let his guard down.

“Just take it seriously because it’s not going anywhere any time soon.”

Arriaga decided to share his story with the public because he believes there needs to be more awareness about the virus.

Copyright 2020 KGNS. All rights reserved.

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