In early March 2020, President Gary Ludwig stood up a task force of fire service leaders to address the issues the Coronavirus was having on the fire service. Fire Chief John Sinclair, IAFC President (2016-2017), was appointed as the 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 (COVID-19). The specific duties of the task force included:
- Monitor the spread of COVID-19 and the role fire and EMS agencies play 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 decontamination and infection control measures. Additionally, identifying COVID-19-related medications commonly used by pre-hospital EMS agencies, which are at risk for entering shortage, and creating call screening guidelines to identify potential COVID-19 patients.
- Monitor and review new COVID-19 resources, developed by the U.S. federal 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 to fire departments. Each week an update on the medical aspects of the virus and response was provided by Dr. James Augustine, along with invited guests, 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 for the fire service.
- Since March the task force has held weekly calls that provided information from task force members on the impact to the fire service on PPE, supply chain, testing of personnel, policies for fire departments, discussions 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, and 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 IAFC website. Information such as documents prepared by several federal task forces including FEMA, DHS, HHS, NIOSH, NHTSA, U.S. Fire Administration, and CDC were reviewed and links posted on the website. In addition, a document that provided information on "Guidance to Counterfeit Respirators" was made available to the fire service.
- Model policies and procedures for protecting fire service personnel related to the pandemic have been discussed and shared to protect the responders and the communities they serve better.
- The task force continues to monitor the deaths of firefighters due to COVID-19 along with the impact to fire departments on exposure and quarantines 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 IAFC Government Relations department, the task force has provided information on the pandemic's impact as it effects 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 and needed PPE, supplies, and equipment to respond to the pandemic in a safe manner.
- As an outgrowth of this task force, a second task force on the economic crisis related to COVID-19 was created by President Ludwig to deal with the economic impact to fire departments and the communities they serve.
Part of the way the Coronavirus Task Force was able to collect and disseminate data about how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the fire/EMS service was through a series of surveys. These surveys were focused on collecting data on the economic impact of the pandemic, the impact on personnel, and the PPE needs of agencies. The surveys were obtained using the Esri Survey123 app, and then the data was displayed using Esri dashboards. The task force worked closely with the IAFC staff in the survey design, question selection, and data presented in the dashboards.
Meetings and work continue weekly 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. It is expected that the task force's work will help to bring clarity to the planning for the path forward and the need for continued coordination across the country and the world.
The task force regularly updates the IAFC COVID-19 webpage with the latest information and tools. Be sure to visit the website weekly to see the latest information and feel free to share your lessons learned and information. The information, the surveys, and dashboards can be found on the IAFC website.
David S. Becker serves as the staff liaison for the Coronavirus and Economic Crisis Taskforces created in 2020. He currently serves as the Immediate Past Chair and Member at Large of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Section. Chief Becker represents the IAFC on the Committee on Accreditation of EMS Professions (CoAEMSP) serving as the Treasurer/Secretary. He is a full-time Faculty Member for Columbia Southern University EMS/Fire programs.