The Daily Press has launched a series of interviews with essential workers who are working bravely and diligently to keep the Santa Monica community functioning.

Our second featured worker is Jon Sly, a fire captain and paramedic working for the Santa Monica Fire Department. He is originally from the UK where he was in the fire service for 14 years, and has been working with the City of Santa Monica for the past nine years. For Jon, risking ‘life and limb’ is just part of the job, but the pandemic has added a whole new slew of challenges including pay cuts, COVID-19 exposure, more frequent shifts, and intense sanitation protocols—including showering up to six times a day.

Jon said he and his entire team are proud of the work they do, honored to be part of the SMFD, and are taking their additional duties in stride.

How has your job changed due to the pandemic?

We cover a good portion of the convalescent homes in this district, so now when we arrive on scene we have to put gowns on top of our uniforms. On these calls we also utilize a piece of equipment called a PAPR which is, for want of the better word, like a space helmet that attaches to an air purifier that we wear around our waist.

After transporting the patients to the hospital each company has to go out of service just to decontaminate, which takes us 30 minutes. Then we have to come back and the entire crew has to shower. If you are running 10 calls a day several of those have suspected COVID, so we have to shower sometimes five or six times a day.

We also have to clean the entire station twice a day by mopping all the floors and wiping all the hard surfaces. We used to have members of the public come by and we’d always invite them in the station, which we can no longer do. This year is particularly hard because there’s always a crew working on Thanksgiving or Christmas and when that happens we traditionally have family members come in. Sadly, we can’t do that anymore.

How was SMFD affected by the City’s COVID-19 budget restructuring?

As a union we’ve taken a pay cut for one year and then we receive another pay cut next financial year. The way we look at it we’re fortunate to be in the career that we’ve fought very hard to get into. Some people take five or six years to get hired. At the end of the day we are still receiving a paycheck and doing the job that we love.

How has your work been impacted by this year’s extreme wildfire season?

We’ve sent engines out striking wildfires five times this season. It added a bit of staffing because if a member calls in sick or we send people out on a strike team, people can be called from home to cover those positions. With a lot of people being recalled from home, you can find yourself working 20 shifts a month instead of the standard ten. We understand that it’s important to support other departments that have those fires in their backyard. It’s something we keep a positive spin on and just get the job done.

How do you feel about the risk of COVID-19 at work?

It’s something we’ve adapted to, so we’re used to it. We sign up to potentially risk life and limb just by doing this job. We have got a very good backup through our nurse educator and the captain that is in the paramedic coordinators division and we work very closely with a doctor in a Santa Monica hospital. At the station we work out of we deal with multiple COVID patients daily. Because we are so strict with the guidance that we have on the calls no one has become sick from an exposure.

The fire department is also doing a good job pushing mental health awareness for the toll it’s taking on individuals not just at work. A lot of us have spouses who have lost their job, as well as our children not being in school, so we’re also feeling the same additional stresses that the general public is feeling. At the end of the day we feel very fortunate to be working as firefighters. If we need to do it, we just pick up the challenges and take it in our stride, but we couldn’t do that without the backing of the City, the administration, the fire chief and everybody else.

Clara@smdp.com