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Rodney "Rod" Kelley served with AFD for 20 years. (Austin Fire Dept.)

After the loss of two police officers due to COVID-19 last week, the Austin Fire Department announced its first death today: 20-year firefighter Rodney Kelley.

Kelley died on Sunday after a long battle with COVID. In a tweet, AFD said it was heartbroken over the "loss of our brother."

According to a recent department survey, 78% of firefighters are vaccinated, though many did not respond to the survey. An earlier April report showed that only 60% of uniformed employees had been vaccinated—a much smaller number than the 95% vaccinated civilian staff.

Texas lawmakers passed a bill in May saying if a firefighter died of COVID-19, it would be presumed the virus was contracted due to the nature of their work.

COVID-19 is ravaging through the police department as well—40 officers and seven civilian employees were out of work with the virus as of Friday—leading to an increase in safety protocols to reduce contact.

For now, the Austin Police Department is suspending non-required training and ride-along programs, non-patrol units will telework, lower priority calls will be handled remotely where possible and enforcement of non-hazardous traffic violations will be at the officer's discretion.

APD does not have a reliable count on vaccinated officers, according to Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon, who said he estimates that around 50-60% of officers have been vaccinated.

Chacon said he is encouraging colleagues to get the vaccine, as well as following guidance on masking, social distancing and driving alone when it's an option.


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