IAFF seeks help from Congress to support firefighters

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- Firefighters are used to wearing pounds of safety gear, but not on every call.

Seattle firefighters wearing masks, gowns, and gloves to protect against the transmission of the new coronavirus, walk and stand near their engine after responding to a medical call in Seattle Tuesday, March 24, 2020. First responders across the country are now responding to even routine calls wearing personal protective equipment to try and slow the outbreak of the new coronavirus, which causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Now, during the coronavirus outbreak, Lansing Michigan Local 421 President Dan Komm says his department is treating every call as a coronavirus case.

"We are reusing PPE that is meant to be disposable," said Komm.

With staffing shortages and limited testing and equipment nationwide, thousands of first responders have already tested positive for the virus, including four from Komm's department.

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) is calling for Congress to pass funding for state and local governments to help counteract the budget shortfalls during the pandemic.

"Failure to assist local governments will have a catastrophic effect on, not just safety, but the economy as a whole" said IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger.

Schaitberger says the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the federal government are to blame for a "failed distribution process" and for leaving state and local governments to fend for themselves.

"The decision-makers expect our members to be on the front line, but they don't put them at the front of the line to get what they need," said Schaitberger.

Co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) says Congress is listening to the firefighter's concerns.

"I think it's understandable that they are concerned about their own health and wellbeing," said Collins.

As part of the CARES Act, 100 million dollars is now available through FEMA grants. Collins says the money is specifically intended to help local departments purchase personal protective equipment.

According to a statement from FEMA, the supplemental funding will provide financial assistance directly to eligible fire departments, non-affiliated emergency medical service organizations and State Fire Training Academies for critical PPE and supplies needed to prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency.

The application period will close May 15th.

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