KY Child Care Center Closures Create Dire Dilemma for FFs

March 19, 2020
"As this progresses, we expect many of our firefighters will have to work for days at a time. That’s hard to do without child care," said the head of Kentucky's firefighters union.

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Kentucky firefighters, police and other public safety workers say the Friday closure of most child care centers could hurt staffing, hamper public safety and impede the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

To stop the spread of the respiratory illness, Gov. Andy Beshear ordered Kentucky child care centers closed by Friday. Centers that serve health care workers have been exempted from the closure.

Police, fire, corrections officers and 9-1-1 dispatchers want the Beshear administration to add child care for first responders to the exemption.


Officials with Beshear’s administration were not immediately available for comment.

Lexington Enhanced 9-1-1 Director Robert Stack said his  9-1-1 call takers and dispatchers have scrambled over the last few days to find friends, co-workers and family members to watch their children.

“They are already under a lot of stress,” Stack said. “They all have a plan B. But they have no Plan C if the person that is watching their child gets sick and can longer watch their children. “

Police, fire, corrections and dispatchers don’t have the option of working from home, he said.

“They have to come to work,” Stack said. “They also can’t bring their kids to work with them.”


Most of the state’s professional firefighters are also EMTs or paramedics, said Joe Baer, president of the Kentucky Professional Firefighters Association, which represents 44 unions and 3,000 professional firefighters statewide.

“Most firefighters work 24-hour shifts. And as this progresses, we expect many of our firefighters will have to work for days at a time. That’s hard to do without child care,” Baer said. “I have one firefighter who is a single parent. His parents are now watching his 7-year-old, but they are in their 70s and he’s worried that they are being put at risk.”

Lt. Jonathan Bastian, president of the Lexington Fraternal Order of Police Bluegrass Lodge 4, said the second largest police department in the state is also trying to figure out how it will fill all its shifts without child care.

“It’s not just police. It’s our 9-1-1 call takers and dispatchers and our civilian employees who do critical work for the department,” Bastian said. Employees are currently relying on co-workers, spouses of police officers, family and friends for child care.

Drew Fox, government affairs director for the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police, which represents FOP unions statewide, said departments can’t staff properly without child care.

“Our folks can’t go to work if they don’t have safe child care,” Fox said.

Both Baer and Fox said first responders are essential and at high risk for coming in contact with someone who has COVID-19. If police, fire, dispatchers and correction officers get sick, that too will affect staffing. Those employees will be out for weeks.

It’s already happened.

Three firefighters across the state have already been tested for COVID-19, Baer said. All three tested negative but some were in quarantine for 14 days, unable to work.

“I applaud the administration for working with us and getting those firefighters tested,” Baer said. The firefighters were also being paid for that time off, which also helps, Baer said.

Baer and Fox said some police and fire departments do not have personal protective equipment or do not have enough personal protection equipment. Baer said he has been told that more equipment has been sent to Kentucky and should be available to local health departments and EMTs and paramedics soon.

Fox said some police departments have the equipment. Others do not.

“We have some police departments that are paying officers minimum wage,” Fox said. “Some don’t have that type of equipment.”

Both firefighters and police unions have spoken with the Beshear administration. Both said they are hopeful that like health care workers, child care options will be available to them as well.

“I have faith in the governor’s administration to address this,” Baer said. “They have really been fantastic to work with, and we feel confident that this will eventually be addressed.”


©2020 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)

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