By Laura French
WASHINGTON — The International Association of Fire Fighters has released an interim after-action report on COVID-19 response, detailing the challenges faced by IAFF members and actions taken by the organization in the first several months of the pandemic.
The report is highly critical of federal and state governments, which the IAFF says have failed to provide adequate support with regard to guidance, PPE and supplies, testing, funding and other protections for fire and EMS personnel. The report explains how the IAFF worked to fill the gaps by developing its own guidance, protocols and tools, forming partnerships with businesses such as hotels to allow for quarantining and protection of members, and urging governments and legislatures to provide funding and pass laws that would serve the needs of the fire and EMS workforce.
"Federal guidance does not address fire fighters and EMS personnel as priority pre-hospital workers. To this day, federal agencies do not recognize the multifaceted role of today's fire service," the report states. "This lack of recognition came to light during this national pandemic and has left IAFF members — fire fighters and EMS personnel — without necessary equipment and tailored guidance."
In the months since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, IAFF efforts have included developing a tracker survey to document the impact of COVID-19 on fire service personnel, developing fire service specific safety guidelines, insisting that the CDC issue first responder safety and dispatch guidance, urging widespread testing of firefighters and EMS providers, lobbying for relief funding and legislation to provide compensation for first responders who contract the virus, and developing a series of behavioral health resources for first responders and their families, according to the report.
The IAFF cited examples of positive change made through consistent lobbying efforts, such as the passing of the Safeguarding America's First Responders Act of 2020 that included a COVID-19 presumption under the Public Safety Officer Benefit program, and the reopening of state-owned Pearson Vue Testing Centers that allowed more than 12,000 EMS students complete their certification exams.
The report makes several recommendations for improved government support of fire and EMS personnel, including better recognition from FEMA of the multifaceted role of the fire service, prioritization of firefighters in distributing PPE, supplies, tests and vaccines, and adequate funding to support staffing, equipment, training, testing, immunization and behavioral health services.
Read the full report below:
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