Everett Firefighters partner with Fred Hutch to research COVID-19's impact on frontline workers

There’s a new effort to make sure our local emergency crews on the front lines are properly protected from COVID-19.

Many of these first responders go home at the end of their shifts concerned they could bring the virus with them and possible infect their families. 

Every time the fire trucks roll out of Everett's Fire Department Station 5 and crews come in contact with people, they’re gearing up in personal protective equipment, also known as PPE. That includes gowns, masks, and face shields. After coming in contact with 114 COVID positive people city wide, many firefighters like Erik Baker wonder, how well it’s really working.

"Guys are thinking about it and are concerned about it," said Baker, a medical services officer. "Many are interested in this testing." 

That testing is happening just feet away in the station's parking lot. It's where a team from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, one of the world’s leading research institutions, has set up tents to gather critical health information from almost 50 Everett firefighters.

"They're out there on the front lines from the very beginning. We wanted to know what impact COVID-19 had on them," said Julie Czartosky, a nurse practitioner who conducts field studies for Fred Hutch. 

This one on COVID-19 has tested more than 350 emergency workers to date. The test includes a nose swab for the virus and a blood test for antibodies, indicating the person has already been infected. 

Assistant Fire Chief Rich Llewellyn is one of those getting tested. 

"I'm actually interested to see if I've had a case," said Llewellyn. "It's been in Snohomish County from the very beginning."

Czartosky said about the testing, "I think it's going to be really reassuring hopefully to first responders to know that the protections we have in place actually work."

Assistant Chief Llewellyn isn’t just getting tested, he’s also the reason Fred Hutch is here, after agreeing to the collaboration. 

"We're a data driven organization," said Llewellyn. "We're not afraid of where the data takes us. We need to know what's going on in order to better protect our folks and better protect the community."  

The information Fred Hutch is gathering won't just help first responders. Researchers plan to share the information on immunity with others, now desperately working to find a COVID-19 vaccine.