Today, Chief Al Gillespie, IAFC president and chairman of the board, testified before members of Congress urging the U.S. government to take action in including first responders and their families in medical countermeasures required in the event of a pandemic or biological attack.
The hearings, held by the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications of the Committee on Homeland Security in the U.S. House of Representatives, was the third in a series of hearings addressing medical countermeasures and specifically addressing the needs of emergency responders.
“Mr. Chairman, the fire and emergency services will do all we can to protect our communities,” said Chief Gillespie, “We need Congress to do all it can to protect first responders and address a major gap in preparedness for a pandemic or a bioterrorist attack.”
Gillespie pointed out that the fire service has traditionally never failed to protect their communities, but noted the studies that illustrate responder’s reservations about biological attacks, which pose a unique threat not only to themselves, but to their families as well.
“We should not wait for an attack to validate the surveys and provide absolute proof,” said Gillespie. “Congress should add language during the conference committee for the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act that focuses on protecting first responders. Otherwise, a major gap in our national-preparedness system will remain.”
In his testimony, Chief Gillespie articulated a number of recommended actions:
- Congress should authorize the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services to establish and test a voluntary anthrax immunization program for emergency-service providers.
- Congress should direct these federal departments to deploy prepositioned antibiotic kits into the homes of emergency-service providers to protect first responders and their families.
- Federal policy should be changed to set up a pilot program that rotates nonexpired, potent and safe vaccines from the SNS to voluntary emergency-responder immunization programs.
View a copy of the complete testimony (pdf) on the IAFC's website: Government Relations > Legislative Issues > Homeland Security.