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Tim Dupin believed – or at least hoped – that firefighters, paramedics and other ambulance workers in Missouri would be among the first to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
After months of feeling overlooked by elected executives distributing safety equipment and other resources, her role at the frontline of the medical system would surely be recognized, Dupin thought. Throughout the pandemic, they had responded to calls the way they always had: regardless of who or what they might encounter at the scene, they had interacted with people who might have the coronavirus, even though they often had makeshift personal protective equipment and Had masks that were old, flawed, or moldy.
Dupin, a Kansas City Fire Department captain and president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 42, was taken aback when the recommended vaccination schedule was released and saw firefighters waiting behind health care workers to get their shots. Despite lobbying for the Missouri Governor and even after three members of the KCFD died of Covid-19, firefighters were not involved in the first stage of vaccine distribution.
Missouri, like many other states, had adjusted the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which moved the fire department into the second phase. When the state entered this group in mid-January, state officials encouraged firefighters to sign up. And now most of the members of the KCFD have been offered the recordings.
However, firefighters in several states said the vaccination priorities and the pandemic as a whole had exposed a startling misunderstanding or lack of concern about their role in the medical system.
“They don’t really understand what we’ve been through and what we’re doing,” said Dupin.
According to a 2018 report by the National Fire Protection Association, 45% of the country’s 29,705 fire departments provided basic life support services while another 17% provided advanced life support services. Firefighters respond to car accidents, hazardous material spills, mass trauma, rescue operations, and far more medical calls than fire calls. According to the association, the fire brigades received more than 36.7 million calls in 2018. Less than 2 million were for fires and more than 23.5 million for medical aid.
“We are at the tip of the spear,” said Gary Ludwig, chief fire officer in Champaign, Illinois and past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. “We are health care providers on a truck.”
For the Kansas City Fire Department, 1,170 of the 1,284 members are licensed as either paramedics or paramedics and are supposed to take turns driving fire trucks and ambulances, Chief Donna Lake said. Fire engines are sent by ambulance to all medical calls – and all emergency services who are called on site can provide medical care. This is common across the country, even in communities where emergency services are not part of the fire department.
Not all states have banned firefighters behind health workers like Missouri or according to CDC recommendations. In Massachusetts, for example, the state included firefighters, more than half of whom have paramedic or paramedic licenses, in the first-round distribution of vaccines so that they can ultimately offer the shots in their own departments, according to Rich MacKinnon, president of the professional firefighters of Massachusetts. Firefighters are now working with the state to develop plans to help vaccinate other groups.
Still, since the pandemic began, many firefighters and first responders have felt like an afterthought on government officials, said David Mellen, a firefighter and paramedic in Wyandotte County, Kansas and chief medical officer of a volunteer fire department in neighboring Leavenworth County who conducts fire-fighting training and podcasts.
Mellen and other firefighters said they had been consistently disappointed by government officials who failed to supply critical protective gear, forcing the departments – careers and volunteers – to bid against each other, hospitals, doctor’s offices and other facilities for items like masks. Clothes and gloves.
The limited number of providers almost always focused on fulfilling larger hospital assignments, Mellen said. Firemen were forced to turn to federal officials, and then heads of state – all of whom had little to offer – often had unusable or impractical equipment.
“When I hear those sirens coming down the street, it gives me a degree of comfort. I know I have help, ”said Mellen. “They may not be there right away, but I know they are coming. What if I heard these sirens spin and go in the opposite direction? That’s exactly what happened. “
The lack of support has fueled stress and anxiety among the ranks of first responders, who have also dealt with widespread stagnation in wages and a financial squeeze for departments across the country. And now you see your colleagues get infected by the coronavirus.
According to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, 110 firefighters and 53 rescue workers across the country died of Covid on February 19. It is not known how many contracted the virus while working. Dupin said the contact tracing showed that all three KCFD members who died while working were under contract.
Some in this area expressed concern about the future with reports of fewer recruits across the country in recent years and isolated indications of an increasing number of retirements and other departures. Concerns are compounded by pandemic deficits in local and state finances and what this could mean for future funding.
“The back door is bigger than the front door,” said Craig Haigh, fire chief and emergency director for Hanover Park, Illinois, near Chicago.
Haigh said some departments, like his, have retained attractive pay and benefit packages, but the fire department has carried much of the pandemic’s burden on the healthcare system.
It was exhausting, said Haigh. So much so that, like others, he has thought about leaving the job for which he said he was “born to do something”.
Now the 53-year-old Haigh is considering his future. “‘I’ll work until I’m 65’ has changed to ‘Maybe it’s time for someone else to make these decisions’,” he said. “I’m not the only one who falls into that ‘We’re just exhausted’ category.”
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces extensive journalism on health issues. Alongside Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three most important operational programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a foundation that provides health information to the nation.
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