Working Past COVID: Yakima first responders look back

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Credit: Emily Goodell, KAPP-KVEW

YAKIMA, Wash. — First responders are used to facing danger — at a fire scene, high speed chase or gang-related shooting — but when the pandemic hit, they also had to face the ever-present, invisible threat of COVID-19.

“We had to keep working, but so did Safeway and so did the hospitals,” Yakima Police Chief Matt Murray said. “Has COVID changed the way we police? Yeah. Has it changed the way I did my job? Yeah.”

Murray said the biggest change in policing was being unable to arrest and put people in jail for certain misdemeanor crimes due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Obviously, we put murderers in jail, but some of the lower-level offenses, the jail just doesn’t take them,” Murray said. “And some of those folks are — they cause a lot of angst and frustration in the community.”

Yakima Fire Chief Aaron Markham said communication and meetings changed, but everyone at the fire department worked together to figure out solutions. He said worry for the safety of coworkers, family and friends increased.

“Especially as a public safety employee, the opportunity to be exposed is probably higher dramatically, so you want to be very careful that you don’t expose your family and friends,” Markham said.

Megan Fraley, who works in the Fire and Life Safety Inspections division of the fire department, said the call volume was really heavy at the beginning of the pandemic.

“The longer it went on, unfortunately, services weren’t available for people and so there were a lot more mental health calls, suicides and domestics, people were stuck inside,” Fraley said. “We had to do our best to let them know we’re doing the best we can, but everybody was just being worn thin, all the emergency services.”

The stress of the pandemic didn’t stay at work: it followed them home.

“I never thought someone would tell me that I couldn’t go see my elderly grandma in assisted living or that I had to visit her when she’s terminally ill through a screen window,” Fraley said.

But through it all, police and fire personnel said the community had their backs. Murray said the police department constantly gets gift cards or cookies and have received enough positive comments to fill 77 pages.

“We’re the fire department; we’re there to help people and especially in the beginning on a daily basis we were getting calls from the community asking how they could help us,” said Cameron Haubrich, who works in the Fire and Life Safety Inspections division at the fire department.

Most agreed that while things may never be the same as they were before COVID-19 hit, they have hope for the future.

“We’re one big community, whether it be in the City of Yakima, State of Washington or beyond, we’re not alone; we’re in this together,” Haubrich said.

Make sure to tune into KAPP KVEW Local News at 6 PM for the continued coverage of Working Past COVID: What is the new normal? — a limited series.

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PREVIOUS WORKING PAST COVID HEADLINES FROM THE KAPP-KVEW NEWS STAFF:

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