HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Firefighters are battling on the front lines of COVID-19 and fire departments are feeling the strain of this massive public health emergency.
Just like healthcare workers and police officers, firefighters don’t stop working during a pandemic. Their workload might even become more necessary.
David Harer is the president of the Professional Firefighters of Alabama and a driver engineer for the City of Huntsville Fire Department. He says firefighters across the country are being affected by the virus.
“I know across the nation, we have over 15,000 firefighters that have been put in isolation or quarantined, 1200 have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and unfortunately, 8 have lost their lives,” said Harer.
Right now, firefighters are working in a time of uncertainty. Harer says that each day, they are getting new and different information about how the virus can be transmitted and what precautions they can take.
“What seemed to work two weeks ago is now different,” he added.
One of the major priorities for firefighters is the access to personal protective equipment.
“It’s important for us because we may wear a mask to a certain call and not come back to the station in time to decontaminate it, so we need to make sure we have proper PPE levels for whatever we do throughout that day so we don’t become a victim ourselves,” said Harer.
Harer says the firefighter in the Rocket City have been fortunate in getting enough PPE, but other cities are struggling to maintain proper PPE levels, like Jefferson and Mobile Counties.
“We hear a lot of cities talking about the loss of tax revenue and we have heard of some cities maybe wanting to cut back and lay off firefighters, and that’s the wrong step because it’s more evident right now that firefighters are needed to protect their communities,” said Harer.
Even while protecting the community, they are still working to protect each other.
“Someone (on a call) might have flu-like symptoms, and there’s a person on the truck with two kids at the house and they’ll tell that person: ‘You wait right here. If we need you, we are going to call you.’”
Harer says hearing and witnessing stories like that make him proud to be a firefighter. “Never made me more proud to be a firefighters because it shows when you hire on with the fire department, you become part of a family.”
You can keep watch on the IAFF COVID-19 resource page: https://www.iaff.org/coronavirus/ for regular updates on fire fighters exposures and new updates.