The Columbus Dispatch
For the second time in less than a month, a Columbus firefighter has died from complications related to COVID-19.
Greg Bauer, a firefighter at the Columbus Division of Fire’s Station 21 on Columbus’ East Side, died around 1:30 a.m. Monday after contracting the coronavirus, according to a post on the station’s Facebook page. Bauer, who was 56, does not yet have a posted obituary and funeral arrangements are still pending.
Because the City of Columbus does not require employees to be vaccinated nor disclose their vaccination status, it’s unclear if Bauer or either of the either two Public Safety employees who have recently died of COVID were vaccinated against the deadly virus. The only exception to that policy involves Columbus Public Health employees.
Hired in 1996, Bauer was described in the post as a leader at Station 21, where he was affectionately nicknamed “the mayor.”
“Greg had no issue having a talk to anyone that wasn’t holding up their share but was also a mentor the young firefighters on all three shifts,” the Facebook post read. “This man was truly the very definition of pride and ownership within the fire service.”
Bauer’s death is the second among firefighters and the third among public safety workers reported in the last month.
On Sept. 19, veteran Columbus firefighter Frank D. Duff Jr., 66, died after contracting the virus in mid-August in the line of duty. Hired in September 1994, Duff spent the majority of his career working on the city’s West Side and was last assigned to Rescue 17 at city Fire Station 17 on West Broad Street in the Highland West neighborhood of the Hilltop.
Less than a week ago, a Columbus police officer also died of COVID-19-related complications.
Officer James Strozyk, 49, spent his entire law enforcement career with Columbus police, and was most recently assigned to the patrol bureau in Zone 2 on the East Side before his death.
Strozyk’s death was the first within the division related to complications from the coronavirus, Columbus police spokesman Sgt. James Fuqua told the Dispatch last week.
But it’s hardly the first in the United States.
The coronavirus has become the leading cause of death for police officers in the United States despite law enforcement being among the first groups eligible to receive the vaccine at the end of 2020.
In 2020, 245 officers died from Covid-19 and there have been an additional 233 such deaths so far this year, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP).
Yet police departments and their unions have resisted getting the jab as the delta variant continues to cause a surge in cases, even as health experts insist the vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent death and serious illness.
Chicago has recently made national headlines because some 3,200 police officers representing nearly 36% of its force have not complied with a city mandate to report vaccination status. Chicago is requiring its officers to get vaccinated or undergo twice weekly COVID tests at their own expense.
Some Seattle police officers have also balked at getting a vaccine mandate, though 91% have, according to city figures.
First-responders in Columbus became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in March, but it’s unclear what percentage of them have received it. The Washington Post reported in early May that 28% of Columbus police officers had reported getting a COVID vaccine, but the city at the time disputed that figure to The Dispatch.
Steve Stein, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 67 in Columbus, told The Dispatch previously that the majority of Columbus’ approximately 1,600 firefighters had received the vaccination.
The Fraternal Order of Police Capitol City Lodge No. 9, which represents Columbus police and other area police departments, said previously that it did not know how many city officers had been vaccinated.
Despite the fact that Columbus police and firefighters come into contact with the public daily, Mayor Andrew Ginther and city officials have not imposed a vaccine mandate on city employees because they say they don’t want to lose employees over such an action. The city is attempting to create a $500 incentive payment to encourage unvaccinated employees to get vaccinated, but so far only one union representing civilian dispatchers has signed on to the proposal.
Eric Lagatta is a reporter at the Columbus Dispatch covering public safety, breaking news and social justice issues. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @EricLagatta