The city will provide 274 hotel rooms for Chicago’s paramedics, firefighters and police officers as a respite for those who may have been exposed to people with the coronavirus, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Tuesday.
The rooms will be provided by the Hotel Essex, 800 S. Michigan Ave., the mayor said, speaking at a graduation ceremony for new Chicago Fire Department paramedics.
“These rooms aren’t for first responders who are themselves sick,” Lightfoot said. “We have hospitals for that. However, the reality is that they are coming in contact with the virus everyday and working long, hard hours. And some of them may prefer to stay downtown rather than going home to their spouse, kids or friends.”
Jim Tracy, president of Local 2 of the Chicago Fire Fighters Union, said the new accommodations were a relief.
“Everybody’s got a different situation that they live with, whether they’ve got young children, whether they have somebody with an autoimmune deficiency, whether we have senior citizens or parents that we’re taking care of, grandparents,” Tracy said.
Lightfoot spoke at a ceremony honoring 34 newly minted paramedics, which was held at the Fire Department’s headquarters and not in its normal place in the ballroom of Navy Pier.
The families and friends of graduates could not attend because of restrictions put in place as part of the city and state’s response to the novel coronavirus. Graduates sat several feet from one another to adhere to social distancing restrictions.
And when it was time for them to cross the podium after their names were called, graduates traded forearm bumps with Lightfoot and Fire Commissioner Richard Ford II instead of traditional handshakes.
“For many generations, these graduations have been filled with pomp and circumstance and tradition. But these aren’t ordinary times,” Lightfoot said in her address. “The COVID-19 crisis has changed everything, including this graduation. But it’s also demonstrated even more than ever how important your roles are in this fight. Your city needs you now more than ever.”
In her remarks, Lightfoot noted how, in light of the pandemic, the new paramedics graduated ahead of schedule. Their classes in the academy were conducted in small groups, and their coursework was “intentionally accelerated.”
Ford told the new paramedics that his speech might be the most important graduation address he has ever given or ever will give.
“As soon as you hit the streets and begin riding your ambulances, know that you will be in a confrontation with a world, national and local catastrophe,” Ford said in his remarks. “Your bravery and professionalism, compassion starts as soon as you walk out that door. You will face long days and nights. Long shifts and countless patients. You will be tested to perform expertly under pressure. This will be the epitome of trial by fire. But this is what we all signed up for.”
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