Festus Fire Chief Kevin Cremer

Kevin Cremer

Festus Fire Chief Kevin Cremer has been hospitalized with COVID-19 since Jan. 2. As of Tuesday, he was sedated and on a ventilator battling the virus and pneumonia at Mercy Hospital Jefferson in Crystal City, City Administrator Greg Camp said.

Cremer, 48, of Festus was last on the job on Dec. 31, Festus Fire Department staff reported.

A prayer vigil was held for Cremer on Sunday evening on the parking lot at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. Assistant Fire Chief Chuck Boyer estimated that about 200 people participated in the vigil.

Festus Mayor Sam Richards said he attended. “The prayer vigil was really nice,” he said. “He is in serious condition.”

At the Festus City Council’s meeting on Monday, Richards asked that Capt. Chris Spalding be named the Fire Department’s interim chief to maintain a “chain of command,” and the council voted unanimously to approve the request.

Spradling, 50, has been with the department since 2015.

Also at the Monday meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to reinstate state of emergency powers that allow Richards and City Administrator Greg Camp to take measures, if needed, to curb the spread of the virus.

The powers may remain in effect up to 120 days.

Richards said he requested the council action as a preemptive measure. “If we need to shut the parks down like we did before, we don’t need to come to the council to do it,” Richards said. “Greg and I have the authority. It’s proactive so we can do what we need to do.”

In addition to closing parks, pools and other recreation or meeting centers, other state of emergency powers that could be used if deemed necessary include:

■ Close any and all sections of City Hall, buildings or properties under city control;

■ Suspend any terminations or shutoffs of water service;

■ Schedule mandatory overtime for city employees;

■ Reduce staffing or hours for staffing;

■ Remove employees or the public from any city property if COVID symptoms are displayed;

■ Impose reasonable restrictions for any event or gathering.

Camp said there are no immediate plans to close any municipal property.

“We don’t anticipate closing facilities,” he said Monday.

But, with the spike in Omicron cases, city officials wanted a plan in place to give Richards and Camp flexibility to do so if necessary.

Richards said the city is requiring people to wear masks in Festus buildings, including City Hall, the Public Works building or the library. He ordered the mask requirement during the first week of January.

Camp participated in the Monday meeting remotely because he has been ill with COVID. Monday was the last day of his COVID isolation, and he returned to work at City Hall on Tuesday and will wear a mask.

The Festus City Council authorized temporary state of emergency powers for the mayor and city administrator in April 2020, early in the pandemic. It lasted 90 days.