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April 15, 2020

Funding for Firefighters for COVID-19 Response

COVID-19 is a contagious disease caused by a novel
coronavirus that originated in China in late 2019. It spread
rapidly around the globe, and on March 11, 2020, the
World Health Organization declared the situation a
pandemic. In the United States, by the end of March 2020,
the disease had spread to all 50 states, the District of
Columbia, and all U.S. territories except American Samoa.

Firefighter personnel providing emergency medical services
(EMS) serve as first responders to calls for help from those
who are infected. Challenges for firefighters, many of
whom are volunteers, include a lack of personal protective
equipment (PPE) and a high likelihood of exposure to the
virus. This can lead to health impacts and staffing shortages
due to long quarantine or recovery periods. Congress has
provided emergency funding to assist firefighters
responding to COVID-19 calls, and additional
congressional action may be considered.

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As the coronavirus spreads across the United States, people
are turning to doctors, hospitals, and other health facilities
for diagnosis and treatment. People displaying early or mild
symptoms are often sent home to isolate, rest, and recover.
Some people develop serious or life-threatening symptoms
and call 9-1-1, where call takers may dispatch local fire
departments to assist. Firefighter personnel, who include
emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics,
provide emergency medical services to people in their
homes and may transport them to hospitals. Firefighter
personnel can be exposed to and infected by the virus
through these close interactions.

As the number of U.S. COVID-19 cases has increased, the
number of firefighters affected has as well. The
International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) developed
a dashboard to show the number of firefighter personnel
exposed, quarantined, and diagnosed with COVID-19 in the
United States. On March 13, 2020, when IAFC launched
the dashboard, there were 44 fire departments reporting, 55
personnel exposed, 46 in quarantine, and 1 diagnosed with
the coronavirus. On April 10, 2020, there were almost
2,200 fire departments reporting, over 10,500 personnel
exposed, 4,852 in quarantine, and 575 firefighter personnel
tested and diagnosed with the coronavirus (Figure 1).

In March 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) released Interim Guidance for
Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Systems and 911
Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) for COVID-19 in
the United States, which provides recommendations for
EMS workers responding to suspected COVID-19 calls.

Figure I. IAFC COVID- 19 Dashboard
U.S. firefighters affected by the coronavirus (ADril 10, 2020)

Source: International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), COVID-19
Fire and Emergency Medical Services Personnel Impact Dashboard,
accessed April 10, 2020, https://iafc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/
opsdashboard/index.html#/3813 d2f872224d8a93c52f05cd392b8c.
Notes: This graphic shows data from 2,193 U.S. fire departments
reporting COVID-19 data to the IAFC, as of April 10, 2020. Per the
U.S. Fire Administration, there are about 27,000 fire departments in
the United States. Most (71%) are all-volunteer and may have limited
capacity to report data. Hence, data may not reflect all U.S. firefighter
personnel affected. EMS= Emergency Medical Services, including
Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) and paramedics.

The guidance recommended the use of PPE, procedures for
treating and transporting patients, and decontamination
procedures. However, as the virus spread globally and
supply chains became strained, fire departments have had
difficulty finding the recommended PPE and supplies. In a
survey of 288 fire departments conducted by the IAFC, fire
departments indicated their highest priority needs were N95
respirator masks, gowns, surgical masks, decontamination
supplies, eye protection, and gloves, in that order (as of
April 10), and 90% indicated that they had altered
procedures as a result of shortages.

Since firefighters can be exposed on the job, at home, and
in the community, departments are monitoring personnel
for signs of the virus to avoid transmission to others in the
community and in firehouses. Some fire departments isolate
staff who may have been exposed to the virus, which can
lead to staffing shortages. While the CDC has issued
guidance advising that essential workers may be permitted
to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-
19 provided they are asymptomatic and are monitored, the
IAFC is pressing for prioritization of testing for firefighters
to determine if a firefighter has the coronavirus and needs
to be isolated and treated or can return to work.

On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed the
Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES)
Act (P.L. 116-136), which appropriates more than $2

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