Jan 16, 2021
VIDEO: 'It felt great'
WHITMAN, MASS. - The firehouse has turned into a makeshift vaccination center for the firefighters who call this small Plymouth County town home, as first responders take their turn to receive doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“It felt great,” said Rich MacKinnon Jr., president of the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts, after he was vaccinated last week. “It’s been a long ordeal, it’s been a long road for not only the members here that I have the privilege of working with, but for firefighters throughout the state.”
Since the pandemic began, more than 850 Massachusetts firefighters have been diagnosed with confirmed cases of COVID-19. MacKinnon said the rate of infection among his members mirrored that of the general public: The virus temporarily waned in the summer and early fall, but firefighters have seen a large increase in case counts within their ranks over the past month.
“We assume the risk that comes with the job, but the hardest part for our members is the fear of bringing it back to their families,” he said.
Massachusetts began making COVID vaccinations available for first responders, including fire, police and EMTs, on Jan. 11. Departments have the option of administrating the vaccine on-site, as Whitman did, following the guidance for the Massachusetts COVID-19 Vaccine Program.
First responders also can schedule an appointment at sites around the state, including some mass vaccination sites such as Gillette Stadium.
MacKinnon said he expects the vast majority of firefighters in his union to choose to receive their inoculation.
“One thing we do well is communicate, put out accurate information and educate our members and ultimately it’s their decision to make,” he said. “They should feel comfortable getting the vaccine, based on everything we have looked into and everything we know so far.”
Throughout the pandemic, MacKinnon said, the union’s focus has been on meeting the acute health needs of firefighters who contracted the disease and ensuring that there is enough testing and personal protective equipment to protect everyone doing the dangerous job.
MacKinnon and the other firefighters who received the vaccine will need to come back in a few weeks for a second shot. The two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines available now are more than 95% effective in stopping the virus.
As vaccination becomes more available and the broader community is protected, MacKinnon is hoping for a return to some sense of normalcy, including the camaraderie of his brothers at the station.
“We are a close-knit group here in the fire community, especially here in this firehouse,” he said. “We would go out after work or after a union meeting. As the COVID restrictions got clamped down, that got harder and harder to do. So just to go out and be with other people we like being with is a big part of what we look forward to when everyone is vaccinated.”
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PHOTOS BY FAITH NINIVAGGI, VIDEO BY MICHAEL GRIMMETT