By Chief Ronald J. Siarnicki, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation
Thirty-four firefighters in our nation’s capital, 241 in New York and 15 in San Jose. Hundreds of firefighters across the country have COVID-19. Those numbers will have likely increased by the time you read this. The reality is harsh. Even with personal protective equipment and strong infection control procedures, hundreds of firefighters are sick. Some have died.
They’re not looking for sympathy. They’re not looking for glory. The nation’s fire service is turning to you for help.
There’s a lot you can do to make it safer for firefighters. And many of these same actions will help prevent harm to others on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle, like police officers, nurses and doctors.
- Stay home and practice social distancing. We know it’s getting tired and old. We know staying home is stressful and frustrating. But it’s an essential action that keeps us all safe.
- Call 911 for emergencies only. If you need assistance, firefighters, paramedics and EMTs will be there. If it isn’t an emergency, many communities have stepped up their non-emergency lines to offer guidance during the crisis.
- Call 911 for emergencies only. That’s not a typo – it’s a reminder. If you think you have an emergency, call 911. We don’t want you to hesitate to call for real emergencies like heart attacks, household accidents, and small fires. These are emergencies and firefighters are here to take care of you.
- If you do need to call 911, alert the call-taker to anyone in your household that has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or has experienced any symptoms such as cough or fever. Firefighters will be there to help but will take the precautions needed to ensure they can keep doing their job throughout this pandemic. The 911 call-taker will likely ask additional questions. Please be patient and answer these questions.
- Make a list of all medications being taken by each member of your household, along with a medical history. Do it now, just in case. New rules in many communities will prevent relatives and friends from riding in the ambulance or even entering the hospital. We understand how scary this thought is but being prepared can help ensure your loved one is getting the most appropriate care. Make sure those lists are handy.
- Collect a few things a loved one might need if they must go to the hospital. A phone charger, eyeglasses, wallet, ID and insurance card(s) are great things to include.
- Follow your local fire department and emergency management agency on social media. They’ll have additional COVID-19 safety tips and keep you updated on changing procedures and policies.
And since you’re at home, there’s no time like the present to prepare for and practice for other types of emergencies:
- Every household needs to have a home escape plan in the event of fire. There are great tools available on the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s Be A Hero, Save Hero app and at the National Fire Protection Association’s Sparky web site. If you have children at home, make them an active participant in putting the plan together. It’s an activity with immediate and long-term benefits – and let’s face it, who doesn’t want to escape their house right now?
- Think like a firefighter: firefighters work hard each day to be prepared for anything and everything that comes along. Being prepared will help you tackle problems effectively. It also minimizes stress. If you feel prepared, you’ll feel more in control.
There are no stay home orders for your local fire department. Your firefighters always respond when called. Please do your part to help them return safely to their families.
Ronald J. Siarnicki is the executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. He’s the former fire chief of Maryland’s Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department and is currently a volunteer firefighter on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
The United States Congress created the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) to lead a nationwide effort to remember America’s fallen firefighters. Since 1992, the tax-exempt, non-profit Foundation has developed and expanded programs to honor our fallen fire heroes and assist their families and co-workers. In addition, NFFF has expanded its mission to help prevent firefighter line-of-duty injuries and deaths.