COVID-19 sidelines Detroit Firefighter for one year, retires due to effects

When Detroit Firefighter Brian Vogel caught COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic, he was one of a few hundred in Michigan at that time who were sick with the virus. That was March 21, 2020.  He went home in the middle of the shift that day and, one year later, he still hasn't been able to work.

Lt. Vogel started coughing and spiked a fever of 103 that day while working. His oxygen level was at 83% and he quarantined at his home for nine days before he finally listened to his kids and coworkers who begged him to go to the hospital.

"I went home in the middle of my shift and I haven't been back since then," said Vogel. "(I was) on a quarantine floor by myself for seven days and I didn't have any contact with my family for those seven days besides my daughter calling to check on me."

He had COVID-19 and double pneumonia. He lost 20 pounds and it took months of therapy to get his strength back but his lungs still aren't the same. Vogel is uring people to take the virus seriously.

"This is a real virus. I'm a true testament to this virus, you know," he said. "I thank God that I didn't have to go on a ventilator and I thank god I'm here today to talk about it."

A spokesperson for the Detroit Fire Department says 236 firefighters and EMS personnel have had confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one has died - Captain Franklin Williams, who died in early April of last year.

"During 2020, during the height of the pandemic, our medics answered 58,000 life-threatening calls - our firefighters are on 22,000 of those calls," said fire commissioner Eric Jones.

The pandemic's effects are real but there are other reasons that the department has been in the news lately as two separate incidents involving firefighters drinking on the job.

Vogel feels for his friends and colleagues.

"I truly believe that the stress level on the fire department has gone up tremendously because now we're seeing more than we've ever seen," he said.

While he's been away for a year, Vogel says he won't be going on any more runs after 28.5 years of fighting fires, he's fighting the lingering effects of COVID-19.

"It's time for me to retire," said Vogel. "My lungs aren't at the capacity right now that I don't feel that could do my job the way I like to do my job."

While walking away from his life as a firefighter, he's turning to his recovery and his other job: he owns two Firehouse Pubs in Saint Clair Shores and Wyandotte.

"As a front-line worker, I had the COVID. And I'm a businessman, so it affects me in all three ways," he said. "As a small businessman, I mean, we have to open back up."

Vogel brings a unique perspective to the pandemic and has learned lessons along the way. He told FOX 2's Amy Lange he's grateful for his family: his children and wife of 34, who also survived COVID.

"Especially after going through this, it kind of gives you a second chance, you know? It brings things into perspective," he said.

Vogel said the doctors and nurses took great care of him but it was the fire department who made sure he was in good hands. 

"The fire department took very good care of me, they really did."

He's also encouraging others not to give up. 

"I know there's people out there going through what I've had and they're experiencing the same thing I'm going through -  and you gotta fight. Keep going at it and work hard," he said.

A year ago, Lt. Brian Vogel was on the job when he suddenly spiked a fever over 103. He went home, quarantined, and was later hospitalized. A year later, he still hasn't returned to the fire station and says he won't.