Kansas City captain dies after contracting COVID-19 at work

Captain Robert "Bobby" Rocha is the second member of the Kansas City Fire Department to die from the virus

Duty Death: Robert "Bobby" Joseph Rocha - [Kansas City, Missouri]

End of Service: 11/21/2020

Anna Spoerre
The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A 29-year-veteran of the Kansas City Fire Department has died of the coronavirus.

Captain Robert "Bobby" Rocha died after becoming infected with COVID-19, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 42 posted on Facebook Saturday morning.

"He was a vibrant and beloved part of the KCFD Family for 29 years," Fire Chief Donna Lake said in a news release. "His passing represents a personal loss to all of us who knew him. I cherish both his friendship and professionalism."

Rocha, 60, began at the fire department in 1991, eventually moving up to the rank of captain, said Jason Spreitzer, a spokesman with the fire department. Rocha, who had been a part of Station 18, died early Saturday morning. He is the second member of the Kansas City Fire Department to die from COVID-19.

In March, Kansas City Fire Department EMT Billy Birmingham was the first person in the city to die in what Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas called the "line of duty" in the coronavirus outbreak.

Since the pandemic began, 176 members of the Kansas City Fire Department have tested positive for COVID-19, Spreitzer said. As of Saturday, 73 were currently still infected.

Rocha's infection was "work-related," Spreitzer said, adding that Rocha was exposed on Nov. 1. He didn't elaborate on how Rocha was infected, but said Rocha, who often helped EMT's on emergency calls, likely had contact with about 15 patients a day.

"I can tell you that it is absolutely, 100% job-related," Spreitzer said. "And it is an on-duty death."

The union wrote on Facebook that Rocha was a friend and inspiration to many around him.

" Brother Rocha fought valiantly against this virus and his fight was a testament to his strength as a person," the post said.

Mayor Quinton Lucas posted on Facebook that Rocha touched "an immeasurable number of lives with his heroism and good humor along the way."

" Captain Rocha fought valiantly for weeks against COVID-19," Lucas wrote. "We honor his sacrifice and courage for the people of Kansas City and pray for his family, friends, our Fire Department and all our frontline workers facing this terrible disease."

Spreitzer said that since the beginning of the pandemic, any members of the department who test positive for COVID-19 are considered to have contracted it on the job. The city pays for their treatment and the employees don't have to use personal time to take off work, he added.

Lake, the fire chief, announced a mask mandate for all members of the department on Oct. 16 after noticing another spike in cases, Spreitzer said. Firefighters and EMTs had already been required to wear masks when coming in contact with patients.

Since the October mandate, all employees have been required to wear a mask while at work and in the fire stations unless eating, drinking or sleeping.

On Monday, Lucas announced that all Kansas City police officers, first responders and other essential workers will be required to wear face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as part of new public health guidance.

The new order went into place Friday. Previous emergency orders exempted first responders from having to wear masks.

Acting City Manager Earnest Rouse in a tweet Saturday urged the Kansas City community to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

As of Friday, more than 72,600 people in the Kansas City metro have contracted the coronavirus as the area continues to see record-breaking numbers of new cases. So far, 940 people have died of the illness.

"KCFD first responders continue to put their lives on the line daily in service to our City as this pandemic rages on," Lake said in the statement. "My request to all is to follow the guidance to protect yourself and your family from this virus."

Funeral and service arrangements for Rocha are forthcoming.


(c)2020 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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