By Rachel Engel
The IAFC is working to keep members up to date on all issues affecting fire departments during the COVID-19 pandemic through three task forces created to target the economic impact, operational implications and readiness of first responders.
During the IAFC’s Coronavirus Task Force weekly webinar, President Chief Gary Ludwig introduced the chairs of two additional task forces created by the IAFC to combat the issues fire and EMS departments are battling during the pandemic.
Working with Congress
Ken LaSala, government relations director for the IAFC and a member of the Coronavirus Task Force, gave an update on current and upcoming legislation, PPE supply issues and a fourth COVID-19 stimulus package:
- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is starting to issue reimbursement checks to providers who bill Medicare for transport that is 6.19% of their fee-for-service payments from 2019
- The issue of PPE shortages was raised with the U.S. Fire Administration, and officials are working with FEMA to ensure fire and EMS agencies are considered “high priority” to receive supplies, such as masks, gloves and gowns.
- The IAFC is requesting $5 billion for each the AFG and SAFER funding programs
- The IAFC is also asking for a repeal of the T-Band Auction
- IAFC officials are pushing to have the Volunteer Incentive Protection Act extended, and the Volunteer Job Protection Act enacted to ensure volunteer firefighters who are exposed to COVID-19 or are quarantined because of exposure to the virus do not lose their job
Learning as we go
Chief Tom Jenkins, former IAFC president and chair of the Lesson’s Learned Task Force, discussed the importance of connecting with other departments and sharing unique ways to make the task at hand easier.
“We’ve got a lot of CDC guidance, we’ve got a lot of formality with what we need to be doing, but I think what makes the fire service and EMS service so unique is our ingenuity, our ability to adapt and solve problems that are sometimes left undone by more formal avenues,” Jenkins said. “We want people to share things that they’ve done, whether it’s complex and innovative, or simple and ingenious, we want to find that information and get it out to our members so they can make a difference.”
Emails can be sent to the Lesson’s Learned Task Force at C19ideas@iafc.org, Jenkins said, and all submissions are welcome. According to Ludwig, the task force will help sort through the sheer volume of information members are receiving daily from a variety of sources and localize it.
“The genesis behind this task force is that we’re all being bombarded by so much information,” Ludwig said. “Some of it is relevant, some of it isn’t, some of it is not a best practice, so the purpose of Tom’s task force is basically to sort through this, like a Central Intelligence Officer, sorting through information and filtering it and putting it down as something that is usable and definable by those in the fire service.”
Facing the financial impact
The third IAFC task force will likely exist long after the other two lose their usefulness, Ludwig said, as budgets are depleted during the pandemic and the economic downturn looms.
Chief Steve Pegram, chair of the Economic Crisis Task Force, shared what he is working on and what members should expect in the future:
- The CARES Act includes money to nonprofit 501©(3)- and 501©(4)-eligible entities, which could include some volunteer departments
- Additionally, volunteer departments that pay personnel may be eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
- There is $2 million in loans available for working capital at a 2.75% interest rate
- The IAFC is working with those officials in Washington D.C. on launching a COVID-19-specific AFG application grant specifically for $100 million in PPE
The task force is also sending out a survey to all IAFC members to gauge the economic impact of the pandemic response on departments, including the cost of response and the impact on local economy and budgets.