With Friday’s passage of the CARE Act, over $150 billion will soon be available to help states and municipalities with immediate needs related to the coronavirus. Of these needs, one of the most acute is for personal protective equipment (PPE), like N95 masks, and related supplies. In a recent survey of over 231 cities by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, over 91.5% reported not having enough face masks for both first responders and medical workers; 88.2% reported a shortage in other types of PPE for these same personnel; and 92.1% reported a shortage of test kits.
As more resources become available, authorities are urged to provide access to all of these supplies to first responders, as well as medical workers. Currently, the U.S. Public Health Service has classified fire service and EMS personnel as Tier 2 or Tier 3 as they prioritize access to testing.
Today, NFPA came together with the nation’s leading response organizations to implore that Vice President Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar provide first responders with the same access to PPE and testing, as healthcare workers.
Why is this so critical right now? Experience from Bergamo, Italy reveals the role of these workers in disease transmission, and their particular vulnerability to sickness. In an Op-Ed sent to the New England Journal of Medicine, Italian doctors wrote, “We are learning that hospitals might be the main Covid-19 carriers, as they are rapidly populated by infected patients, facilitating transmission to uninfected patients. Patients are transported by our regional system, which also contributes to spreading the disease as its ambulances and personnel rapidly become vectors. Health workers are asymptomatic carriers or sick without surveillance; some might die, including young people, which increases the stress of those on the front line.”
For American first responders, that lesson now has a face. On Wednesday, the family of 34-year-old FDNY EMT Christell Cadet reported she is now on a ventilator after contracting the virus and becoming sick. This as the New York Post reports that the city’s emergency medical calls are the busiest since 9/11.
Between fires and calls for medical aid, it is the worst time for fire departments to be forced to quarantine personnel, or worse, endanger the health of responders on the job. If communities do not ensure that firefighters, EMS and law enforcement have access to the PPE they need to protect themselves they cannot expect that they will have access to first responders when safety is on the line – as illustrated within the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem.