In 2018, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimated there were 1,115,000 career and volunteer firefighters in the US. They have been at the forefront of the pandemic since the first known case of the virus in early 2020. Firefighters are, in most cases, certified emergency medical providers. So it’s no surprise that they were needed during the COVID-19 pandemic, which stretched medical resources and manpower thin.
The NFPA reports that the fire department responds to more medical calls than most people know. 2021’s data showed that the average fire department has about 65% medical and rescue calls compared to only 4% of fire calls. In 2019, 62% of fire departments provided emergency medical services, while 46% provided basic life support services.
Given their prominent frontline roles, the number of on-duty firefighter deaths in 2020 was higher than ever since the late 1970s. The only exception was the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It is therefore critical that firefighters be provided with the necessary protection measures. According to the lead physician advisor for the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) COVID-19 task force, Dr. James Augustine, one such measure is carefully maintaining Personal protective equipment (PPE) stocks in case of sudden disruptions in the supply chain. Having enough PPE to keep firefighters safe during operations is a key priority.
Secondly, it is important that key information about the risks involved with COVID-19 be delivered to firefighters clearly and concisely, including the way exposure to such risks can be mitigated. It is also important that firefighters are kept aware of official communication channels so that the spread of disinformation is curtailed. This is to ensure that incidences of vaccine avoidance are reduced.
In the same way, their roles in the fight against COVID-19 should be recognized in that they should receive a level of support commensurate with their service. In Kansas, for example, the Kaiser Health News reported that firefighters experienced shortages in critical protective gear. Fire Departments were then forced to bid against hospitals and other entities for equipment like masks, gowns, and gloves.
Good planning and proper provisions along with clear dissemination of information will make for a safer fire department amid COVID-19. Reach out to us for more on departmental safety.