IAFC Section Chief O’Brian: We Need PPE

Chief O’Brian

Posted on April 22, 2020

In his presentation today at the NEMA Fire, Life Safety, Security, and Emergency Communications Section Industry Day Event, Chief Michael O’Brian conveyed some stark realities facing the Fire Services in the current environment.

O'Brian is the Fire Chief for the Brighton Area Fire Authority (Michigan) and Director, Fire & Life Safety Section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC).

“We need PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). We are thirty days into this [corona crisis], and we still cannot purchase N95 masks,” said the Chief. “Most agencies, under CDC guidance, are re-using N95 masks.” 

The IAFC has been conducting many surveys to keep track of the progress of the Fire Service in response to the pandemic, including trying to assess the economic impact.

In addition to buying vastly more PPE and cleaning equipment, and paying overtime, the Chief reports that some communities are taking aggressive early action by laying off firefighters, paramedics, and EMS staff. 

The IAFC has a Tracking Dashboard for PPE

IAFC PPE Dashoboard

Source: IAFC.org 

“It’s about $10 Billion that the Fire Service is going to need to recoup the costs of keeping our firefighters working.” A request to cover the cost has been passed along to the Administration in Washington, D.C.

IAFC’s COVID-19 Fire & EMS Personnel Impact Dashboard keeps track of the number of COVID-19 Exposures, Quarantines, Diagnoses and Deaths among Fire and EMS personnel across the country. 

Source: https://iafc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/b15d9f1c50a44dedb2b741b970181dfe   

However, Chief O’Brian notes, the dashboard underrepresents the real impact of COVID-19: “It’s probably every day that First Responders, Fire Fighters, and Public Safety are dying from COVID-related causes across this country.”

It’s important to track these illnesses and deaths back to job-related COVID exposure to make sure these workers are eligible for benefits.

Deaths in the “hotspot” areas of the country are up, Chief O’Brian says, and they are “probably COVID-related.” Outside these hotspots, deaths are up too, but the fatalities are not necessarily directly related to the COVID virus. Overdoses and addiction-related deaths are up. But that is not all. “People are refusing to seek treatment because they’re scared to go to a hospital,” the Chief reported.

Also, since more people are spending more time at home, deaths as a results of fire are up 16% in Michigan compared to the equivalent period last year. The Chief reminded the group to check their smoke and fire alarms.

Smoke Alarm Graphic

SOURCE: www.mfis.org

Getting PPE has proved challenging. “The KN95’s we got do not pass the fit test. Then I think we got some counterfeit ones. We had a good order of about 300 that got canceled because the state took the order. And then the states keep fighting with each other on who is going to pay more,” said O’Brian. “I’ve heard the request for a national czar for PPE,” an idea O’Brian supports.

Despite these difficulties with getting PPE, Chief O'Brian was optimistic that supply chain production will improve. “The rate [manufacturers] are producing within the states is so high, somebody is going to be getting delivery.”

The crisis has also changed the way First Responders handle emergency calls. “This continued effort of one Responder going in and being the ‘canary’ [in a coal mine] [to avoid] exposing a lot of firefighters or police officers [who then radio] back what they need” is going to be the new normal.

“We stage our engine companies outside. One person goes in, and if they’re needed, they all go in. We try to limit exposure, multi-use and reconditioning of the PPE, I think that’s going to [continue],” he stated.

Chief O’Brian noted that IAFC will be sharing their legislative initiatives publicly and would welcome grass-roots support – with people reaching out to their local representatives to gain support.    

Takeaways / Recommendations:

  • Continue to enforce fire and life safety codes
  • Continue to develop and improve fire and life safety codes
  • Check Smoke Detectors
  • Industry: Join the IAFC and volunteer for the Fire and Life Safety Section
  • Watch for IAFC legislative initiatives, and when possible express support to local representatives 
  • Follow the Chief on Twitter: @inspector911

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