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A refrigerator the Denton Fire Department uses for vaccine storage on Tuesday. The Denton Fire Department was approved to be a COVID-19 vaccine provider in October. With this new authorization, Battalion Chief Brad Lahart said they’ll be able to store vaccine doses and vaccinate city employees, people who can’t find other means to get vaccinated and vulnerable populations like those experiencing homelessness.

The Denton Fire Department hopes to have the last piece of equipment it needs by the end of the year needed to be a COVID-19 vaccine provider after officially getting the designation in October.

Brad Lahart, the Fire Department’s emergency medical services battalion chief, said they’ve been approved to provide vaccines after filling out paperwork with the Texas Department of State Health Services and obtaining the minimum equipment for vaccine storage.

“In case we have residents throughout the city that for some reason are totally unable to get a vaccine shot in other means or if the vaccines become difficult to get again, we’ll be available to give shots in the future,” Lahart said about becoming a vaccine provider.

Professionals and facilities have to register with the state to start the process of becoming a vaccine provider and then follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s immunization practices.

The Fire Department was already helping out in vaccination clinics with Denton County Public Health. Lahart said part of training for paramedics entails giving shots, so his staff could do anything from drawing up the dose to actually injecting people with the vaccine.

Although the vaccines provided by the Fire Department will be available to employees and people who can’t get a shot in other means, Lahart said they’re focusing on pockets of vulnerable people, such as those experiencing homelessness. Part of that includes partnering with local organizations, like Our Daily Bread Denton, to host vaccination clinics.

“We keep on seeing spikes of the homeless getting COVID and it’ll slow down and then we’ll see another spike,” Lahart said.

The Fire Department has a refrigerator and freezer on hand to store vaccines but they’re still awaiting an ultra-cold freezer for Pfizer-BioNTech doses. The Pfizer vaccine must be stored between -90 and -60 degrees Celsius, according to the CDC. Lahart said they hope to have that ultra-cold freezer by the end of the year.

“You can’t go to your local Walmart to buy [an approved] freezer,” he said.

Other minimum equipment they needed to have included thermometers to make sure the doses stay at the proper temperature and backup equipment. Lahart said they were also sent ancillary equipment — mixing supplies including needles and syringes as well as administration supplies like vaccination record cards and personal protection equipment.

Lahart said the city budgeted $500,000 to the Fire Department from its allocation of American Rescue Plan relief funds, which they’re using to obtain all the equipment.

The federal funds are meant to be used to respond to COVID-19-related impacts. Denton will receive $23.29 million in total over the next two years, with the first relief tranche of about $11.65 million already sitting in a bank account.

While the focus right now is on COVID-19 vaccines, this authorization will come in handy post-pandemic if we reach herd immunity.

“We’ll always be available to vaccinate not only city of Denton employees, but also city of Denton residents if another pandemic occurs in the future,” Lahart said.

ZAIRA PEREZ can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @zairalperez.