Nearly 2.5 million Americans are confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 which means that firefighters are at considerable risk of coming into contact with the virus. Firefighters and the fire departments they work for need to take reasonable steps to protect themselves and their colleagues from contracting the virus during the course of their duties and while on their time off. These measures include wearing personal protective equipment, social distancing, and routine testing.
Steps Firefighters Can Take to Protect Themselves
Firefighters must proactively protect themselves, their colleagues, and the general public from contracting COVID-19. There are a number of steps firefighters can take to achieve this, including:
- Stay home when symptoms appear. Common symptoms of coronavirus infection include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath.
- Notify supervisors and occupational health program administrators immediately when exposed to individuals with suspected or confirmed infection.
- Firefighters should wear an N95 respirator or face mask at all times while working and should do so even on their off-hours while they are running errands, meeting with friends, etc.
- Firefighters should maintain a safe social distance at all times. This includes avoiding known hazards such as dining out, large gatherings, etc.
- Firefighters should wear eye protection to include either a face shield or goggles. This is not necessary if the individual is wearing a full-face respirator.
It is also vital for firefighters to regularly clean their clothing, including any gowns or coveralls worn at work. All personal protective equipment should be washed between uses and should be discarded when it becomes compromised through tears or significant exposure.
Finally, as simple as it is, hand washing and the use of sanitizer significantly reduce the risk of contracting coronavirus. Individuals should wash their hands thoroughly with soap for at least 20 seconds, and should follow this with the application of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Employers of firefighters and EMS personnel should develop effective COVID-19 plans for their employees. This includes delivering up-to-date information and guidance as it becomes available. It also entails providing personal protective equipment and training employees on how to utilize such devices. Employers should allow employees to take time off without penalty when potential exposures occur. Moreover, it is advisable for employers to provide testing services that are critical for confirming infection before it can spread throughout the department.