By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The virus has been wreaking havoc on the rank and file of the Los Angeles Fire Department with 299 firefighters off duty because of COVID-19, causing worrying staffing shortages so much so that a high-ranking firefighter said they are in the midst of a “severe staffing crisis.”

“As of yesterday, we have 299 firefighters off duty due to the virus,” said LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said during a press conference on Thursday. “It’s the highest we’ve seen at any one time.”

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As of Thursday, Los Angeles has over 800 firefighters and police officers off duty because of the COVID-19 forcing those who are healthy to work overtime.

“I’ve authorized the use of overtime funds to cover those who are sick,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Even though the LAPD has 5% of its officers out with COVID the department has maintained staffing numbers, however, the fire department has struggled to fill in the gaps.

“At no point have communities had a closed fire station,” said Terrazas. “What we do have are some fire stations with fewer resources than normal that are still open.”

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However, those fewer resources have resulted in firehouses, including the one that officials spoke in front of Thursday morning, not having enough employees to staff an engine, according to sources within the department. At the time of the press conference, Station 4, only had enough employees for two ambulances but not enough for engines. As of last night, there were 166 shifts left unfilled for Thursday. The staffing shortages are worrying for the LAFD brass as some have said “morale is an all-time low” and “we’re in crisis mode, big time.” Despite the shortages, Terrazas said that response times have increased by at most 13 seconds.

“For critical advanced life support responses, we have increased our response times by 13 seconds,” said Terrazas. “For structure fires, our response times have increased by six seconds.”

Even with these shortcomings, the mayor reassured the public that first responders will continue to respond to emergencies.

“You can rest assured the fire station that is by you when you call 911 for medical emergency or, god forbid, a fire will be there to answer that call,” he said.

To fill the gaps, the city has canceled all leaves for firefighters and in certain cases, firefighters may not go home after their 24-hour shifts to maintain safety in this city. When they are on shift, firefighters will now be required to wear N95 and KN95 masks. The department has also decreased the days of isolation from 10 days to seven.

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“I’m proud of the hard work and determination I see every day from our firefighters and I’m confident it will persist as we continue with this pandemic,” said Terrazas.