In early March 2020, IAFC President Gary Ludwig (2019-2020) stood up a task force of fire service leaders to address the issues the fire service was having with the Coronavirus. Fire Chief John Sinclair, IAFC President (2016-2017), was appointed as Task Force Chair.
The IAFC Coronavirus Task Force was formed to focus the IAFC's efforts on preparing the fire and emergency service to respond to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and it’s resulting disease, COVID-19. The specific duties of the task force included:
- Monitor the spread of COVID-19 and fire and EMS agencies' roles in responding to the virus. Identify how fire departments respond to individual patients, participate in the larger public health system response, and protect firefighters and EMS personnel from contracting COVID-19.
- Develop and disseminate recommendations to IAFC members on topics such as selection and use of personal protective equipment (PPE), implementation of infection control measures, and identification of COVID-19-related medications commonly used by prehospital EMS agencies which are at risk for entering shortage, and the creation of call screening guidelines to identify potential COVID-19 patients.
- Monitor and review new COVID-19 resources, developed by the U.S. government and the World Health Organization, which apply to fire/EMS agencies. If appropriate, include these resources on the IAFC's Coronavirus Resources website.
Since early March, the task force has:
- Hosted thirteen (13) hour-long webinars on Mondays from March through mid-June 2020. These webinars provided timely information on the beginnings of what was being learned about the virus and the impact on fire departments. Each week, an update on the medical aspects of the virus and response was provided by Dr. James Augustine and other guest speakers to discuss the effects being seen around the country. Several tools were discussed and provided to attendees on tracking personnel, and an exposure form was shared.
- In March, the task force created "Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Factsheet for Firefighters and EMS Personnel" that highlighted symptoms of the virus and protection methods and guidelines for employers to help protect workers and prepare each agency for actions that would be recommended safe practices for the pandemic. This guideline also provided several references and resources.
- Since March, the task force has held weekly calls that provided information on the impact to the fire service for PPE, supply chain, testing of personnel, and policies for fire departments. Discussions were held on best practices for response, vaccinations for fire personnel, current legislation updates on funding, mental health aspects and recommendations to the fire service related to response and quarantine impact to responders, decontamination procedures for all aspects related to COVID-19. Members discussed the impact of the virus over the last several months of the pandemic.
- In addition, a great deal of information was provided to the task force, which was submitted to the IAFC as a resource for the website. Information like: Documents prepared by various federal taskforces, including FEMA, DHS, HHS, NIOSH, NHTSA, U.S. Fire Administration, and the CDC, were reviewed and links posted on the website. A document that provided information on "Guidance to Counterfeit Respirators" was made available to the fire service.
- Model policies and procedures for the protection of fire service personnel related to the pandemic were discussed and shared in an effort to better protect the responders and the communities they serve.
- The task force continues to monitor firefighters' deaths due to COVID-19, along with the impact to fire departments on exposure and the quarantine of personnel. Trying to protect the members of the fire service has been a priority, along with trying to stay ahead of the problem has been a challenge.
- Working with the Government Relations team at the IAFC, the task force has provided information on the pandemic's impact as it affects proposed legislation and the impact of PPE and supply shortages. In addition, the task force is an advocate for the prioritization of first responders to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, PPE, supplies, and equipment to safely respond to the pandemic.
Meetings and work continue each week for the task force as the country prepares for the next wave of the pandemic and the coming flu season. It is anticipated that the work of this task force will continue into 2021.
As an outgrowth of this task force a second task force on the Economic Crisis related to COVID-19 was created by then-President Ludwig to deal with the economic impact to fire departments and the communities they serve. Fire Chief Steve Pegram (Goshen, Indiana) was asked to serve as the Committee Chair. This committee met and contributed to the information being gathered by the IAFC and the ongoing legislative efforts.
During the ramp-up of COVID-19, the IAFC recognized that data would be essential to assist fire chiefs and their departments better as they worked daily to deal with the pandemic. One of the early challenges was obtaining enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Several dashboards were developed to help monitor the current situation from departments that contributed their data in order to better assist with PPE shortages and the effect on departments to its personnel exposed to COVID-19. In every case, the information obtained was valuable for discussions with key personnel on Capitol Hill with about the impact of the pandemic on the fire/EMS service.
The Economic Crisis Task Force Survey was the second dashboard created by the IAFC in order to monitor the economic impacts the pandemic has had on fire departments with lost revenue, effect to personnel that were furloughed, and what the chiefs predicted for department financial loss in the coming year. It was clear that many departments experienced significant financial impacts from the pandemic.
Fire/EMS Personnel Impact Dashboard was developed to find out the number of agencies that had personnel in quarantine or diagnosed with the disease. Sadly, the USFA estimates that the number of annual line-of-duty deaths could possibly double due to COVID-19.
Where We Are Today
The effects of SARS-CoV-2 on communities, businesses, and fire departments are unprecedented. The impact on fire department operations and budgets is likely to reach beyond 2020. The IAFC, through the task forces and personnel who are keeping their fingers on the pulse of the pandemic, continue to monitor and review material that can be shared with the fire/EMS service in a timely manner. When relevant information is received, it is posted to the IAFC website or may be posted to IAFC’s social media outlets. Working together and sharing information on best practices helps every community. The dedication of the groups involved since the beginning has never wavered. Stay informed by checking the IAFC website regularly and letting us know how we might assist you.