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Thornton firefighters are on the vaccine frontlines

Doctors, nurses and pharmacists have been busy giving the community COVID-19 vaccines. Firefighters have joined the vaccine frontlines, too.

THORNTON, Colo. — Heather O’Leary works quickly, and efficiently.

With a “one, two, three… poke!” she drives another needle into another waiting arm, with a follow-up smile and joking “ouch!”

The Thornton firefighter-EMT has been vaccinating community members for weeks.

“It just feels so good to get these [shots] out there, be a part of this. Let’s just get as many people vaccinated as possible,” she said.

“People are so happy. I love it!”

The Thornton Fire Department started hosting clinics to administer vaccines back in December. The department schedules clinics based on weekly allotments, which often change. They have a drive-through space set up in the parking lot of a recreation center off Colorado Boulevard, where early in the pandemic they were running a COVID-19 testing site.

RELATED: SCL Health to make important changes to its upcoming vaccination clinic

“Seeing as how COVID has evolved, now as a fire department, to keep serving our community, we need to evolve as well,” explained Lt. Jake Heibert, the incident commander for Thornton Fire’s vaccination site.

“So we changed from testing to vaccinating. That’s the next step in COVID.”

Over the course of several hours Thursday, firefighters vaccinated hundreds of people who were scheduled for their second dose of the Moderna vaccine.

Starting Friday, the state of Colorado opens vaccinations to the next phase, 1B3.  TFD said they secured 3,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that firefighters will be administering on Saturday in partnership with Adams12.

Vaccine administration is separate from the firefighters' daily work.

“The fire department hasn’t stopped at all,” Heibert said. “We still respond to emergency calls, and haven’t cut that back.”

Instead, this is an extra service -- one this department was eager to provide.

“We’re here to take care of you in every way that you need as the public,” Hiebert said.

“You’re having a heart attack, your house in on fire, you’re in a car wreck, or if you need a vaccine so we can make sure you’re staying healthy.”

RELATED: Next Question: How do Colorado vaccine providers verify eligibility?

Heather O’Leary has worked for the Thornton Fire Department for 18 years. Working through a global pandemic, and now vaccinating her community against the virus, was never a job expectation.

“It has been a roller coaster, for sure. But now with the vaccines it feels like there is an end in sight.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) said some fire departments are enrolled as providers, and some are assisting local public health. Besides Thornton, CDPHE said a few other departments across the state are also helping administer vaccines, including Denver Fire.

“We appreciate these partnerships and all local actions being taken to get vaccines into Coloradans’ arms and put an end to the pandemic as quickly as possible,” wrote a CDPHE spokesperson in an email Thursday.

In Thornton Thursday, firefighters were upbeat even as the weather turned cold and snow was in the forecast.

Vaccine recipients were friendly and smiling, and most shared words of gratitude.

Someone left firefighters Girl Scout cookies to say “thank you.”

“A lot of people come through, it’s like their ticket to freedom,” Heibert said. “They get very emotional about that, and were happy to be a part of that.”

“It’s absolutely awesome.”

People who are eligible can register for a vaccine through the Thornton Fire Department by visiting the city’s website.

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