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Chicago Firefighters Who Got COVID-19 Say They Were Told It Is Not Considered An On-The-Job Illness

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago firefighters put their lives on the line every day, and the risks of their jobs are ramped up even more during the coronavirus pandemic.

But hundreds of Chicago firefighters who got COVID-19 said they were stunned when they were told it is not considered an on-the-job illness. They told CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov it impacts their pay and medical bills – and they're fighting it.

Chicago firefighters and paramedics are usually the first to help victims of violence, fires, and since March of 2020, COVID-19 patients.

The Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 said more than 1,000 CFD members have gotten COVID, and three department members have died from it. Yet union leaders said the Chicago Fire Department still classifies COVID-19 as a non-duty injury.

"The only three who are considered duty in the eyes of the Chicago Fire Department are the three who have died," said Joseph Senorski, political director for the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2.

One firefighter, who fears retaliation if identified, got COVID in December and was told the same. He said COVID "definitely most likely circulated through the firehouse."

"So that means everything having to do with it – medical bills, lost what would be holiday pay, everything else – would be out of pocket," the firefighter said.

He said he is currently about $1,700 for COVID-related medical bills and missed holiday pay.

"It's disheartening," the firefighter said.

Local 2's public relations director, Patrick Quane, contracted COVID as well - along with four other people at his firehouse. He even got a letter from CFD Infection Control alerting him to possible firehouse exposure – but he got the same city response.

"I did actually follow up with the city on the status of it, and they did tell me it was a non-duty injury," Quane said.

But a Fire Department spokesman insisted COVID-19 is a covered duty illness. He said all medical bills and holiday pay are paid.

That's news to the union's political director.

"We've filed innumerable grievances on behalf of members who have had COVID, and they haven't gone anywhere," Senorski said. "We haven't gotten any resolution from the city."

One of the grievances was fired with Fire Department brass in December. Another back in May grieved the non-duty layup concern, and still other related grievances that were filed in mid-December, were denied.

"It's a slap in the face – extremely disrespectful to the entire department," the anonymous firefighter said.

A city Finance Department spokesperson said medical bill reimbursement can take some time. As for the grievances, she said the Finance Department hasn't gotten any.

A CFD spokesperson failed to address the grievance issue.

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