Port Neches first responders included in COVID-19 leave policy

Published 12:08 am Saturday, April 4, 2020

PORT NECHES — The Port Neches City Council approved an amendment to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act providing paid job-protected leave to full-time and part-time first responder employees.

The employees may be unable to work should a child, stepchild, spouse or immediate family member contract the coronavirus or symptoms thereof.

The vote passed unanimously Thursday night with the inclusion of a clause for discontinuation should the needs of the city change.

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City Manager Andre Wimer said the decision was weighed on two concerns — public safety and essential services.

“What we’ve attempted to do here is balance the needs of our employees relative to the federal legislation that was passed, and at the same time, the needs of the public,” he said. “Hopefully we won’t encounter a situation where we need to call back an employee that we granted leave, but in order to continue to provide that service to the public, unfortunately, it may be necessary at some point.”

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act is a federal law passed by Congress March 18 creating rules and regulations for Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and the Emergency Sick Leave Act.

The law went into affect Thursday.

The act encompasses crucial city operations such as the fire department, police department, public works, garbage collection, water supply, sanitary and sewer operations.

Under the act, an employee can be granted up to 12 weeks of leave.

City officials discussed the caveat of the agreement, which included the potential loss of needed manpower in the small town.

“Some cities have opted to include emergency responders,” Wimer said. “Other cities have opted to exclude emergency responders. That’s our situation, but I think we made the right decision for both our city and its employees.”

Port Neches Police Chief Paul Lemoine and Fire Chief Paul Nelson both agreed with the council’s decision.

“This is the scenario,” Lemoine said. “We have one person get sick, we lose 25 percent of our workforce immediately. Not counting anybody else in (the department) that may have been exposed. We could effectively lose 50 percent of all investigators in that shift and maybe administrators just because of that one event. That’s a real possibility.”

Nelson echoed Lemoine’s statement.

“If we get one positive, at the bare minimum, we are going to lose one quarter of the patrol shift,” he said. “That’s significant, so we have to try to be a little extra careful.”

Police and fire departments are taking extra precautions to ensure safety.

Lemoine said the station is closed to the public and all officer meetings are conducted outside. All patrol cars are equipped with gloves, masks and sanitizers.

“We stay out in the field most of the day,” he said. “We are taking temperatures at the beginning and end of each shift. Instead of taking written statements, we are using body cameras. It’s hard times, but we are adapting.”