John D.

“Every day I think I could be infected because of my job.”

John D. is a firefighter working tirelessly to serve St. Louis during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is also a husband and father of two, and his role as a first responder during the pandemic means his family has to take extra precautions. “We have friends that are in pods, but I have to be honest – my pod is the entire city of St. Louis. I am always around people who are sick and need help.”

“We miss seeing family and friends. Our weeks are just us. I have two brothers, and I used to see one of them weekly. My son loves hanging out with his uncle and cousins, and he can’t now. My son and his uncle love Star Wars. Instead of watching it together, they FaceTime each other while they watch it. I’m glad they’ve found a way to enjoy it together, but it’s not the same.”

But family life isn’t the only thing that has changed. Life in the firehouse is different too. “A huge part of our culture is hanging out together – eating together, riding together. When you are counting on someone to save your life, you want that relationship with them. COVID-19 is making it much harder to develop those relationships.”

People’s beliefs about the virus further strain relationships between firefighters. John listens to how Trump and many Republicans talk about COVID-19 and notes he hears that same rhetoric from guys at the station. “What you hear politicians like Trump saying, these guys at the firehouse are spewing that too. That’s why they aren’t taking it seriously. What politicians say has a real impact on our lives. It means patients refuse to put masks on. It means co-workers sometimes refuse to put masks on. That puts others and our families at risk. But when you see people get sick, and we have had some firefighters get really sick, it brings it home for the guys. When another firefighter’s mother dies, these guys are now like, ‘Wow, this is serious.’”

“To be a good leader is difficult. To be brave is difficult. This pandemic pointed out just how important leadership is. You can tell when people care about the people they’re leading and when they don’t. COVID-19 made that really obvious.” One leader who has answered the call to action is John’s fire chief, who has consistently emphasized following COVID-19 guidelines to keep firefighters and the public safe. “Our guys are hearing politicians say one thing, but they also hear daily messages that COVID-19 is serious and to wear a mask from our chief – a credible, trusted source for them. His leadership on this is a major reason why some firefighters are taking this pandemic seriously when they otherwise wouldn’t.”

Seeing leadership as crucial to pandemic success, John is angry at the lack of leadership many elected officials across Missouri have shown. “We see family members and business leaders stepping up to make tough decisions when elected officials won’t. Some members of our state legislature tried several times to get the assembly to all wear masks. Instead of making a rule about wearing masks, they were making rules about what masks you can’t wear in the Capitol. They all have health care, so they’re not worried about that compared to us. They’re not in touch with what average Missourians are going through. ERs and EMS are overwhelmed during this pandemic because folks don’t have health care. People are having to take unnecessary risks just to survive. I hope people look at their mayors, governors, and other elected leaders and can see who cares and who doesn’t.”

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