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Courtney Joins Over 100 Bipartisan Colleagues Demanding Support for First Responders

March 24, 2020
Press Release

NORWICH, CT – Last Friday, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) joined Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Peter King (R-NY), and Mike Bost (R-IL), the co-chairs of the bipartisan House Fire Services Caucus, in urging Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to ensure that adequate support for America’s first responders is included in further legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. The letter was signed by over 100 of their other House colleagues.  

“As Congress considers further legislation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge you to include support for our nation’s first responders, especially fire and emergency medical services (EMS), who are serving on the frontlines of this outbreak. First responders are routinely in physical contact with potentially infected persons as pre-hospital health care providers. During this public health emergency, the continued work and support of our first responders is vital,” the members wrote. 

Fire and EMS personnel work in one of the highest risk occupations for COVID-19 exposure. However, first responders have faced severe testing and personal protective equipment shortages. A dearth of testing has led many first responders to self-isolate or quarantine. This has left departments with staffing gaps that must be backfilled, often with increased use of overtime. 

A copy of the letter is available here, the text of which is provided below. 

March 20, 2020 

  

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi                                                  The Honorable Kevin McCarthy 
Speaker                                                                                         Minority Leader 
U.S. House of Representatives                                               U.S. House of Representatives 
Washington, DC 20515                                                            Washington, DC 20515
 

 

Dear Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy: 

As Congress considers further legislation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge you to include support for our nation’s first responders, especially fire and emergency medical services (EMS), who are serving on the frontlines of this outbreak. First responders are routinely in physical contact with potentially infected persons as pre-hospital health care providers. During this public health emergency, the continued work and support of our first responders is vital. 

We understand firefighters and paramedics across the country are in short supply of the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to guard against disease exposure.[1] First responders access to PPE, particularly N95 respirators, helps limit spread of the disease and ensures our nation’s first responders remain healthy so they can continue to serve our communities. We urge you to bolster resources for fire and EMS departments so they can access PPE by increasing funding for emergency Assistance to Firefighter (AFG) grants and prioritizing delivery of these resources through the national strategic stockpile. '

Fire and EMS personnel work in one of the highest risk occupations for COVID-19 exposure. However, first responders have faced severe testing shortages.[2] A dearth of testing has led many first responders to self-isolate or quarantine. This has left departments with staffing gaps that must be backfilled, often with increased use of overtime. Fire and EMS departments must be fully equipped to respond emergencies. We urge you increase funding for emergency Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants and direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to expeditiously disperse federal funds to departments in need. To ensure grant recipients can use SAFER grants for costs related current employee needs and overtime, we urge including language mandating the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to grant waivers to SAFER recipients for the ability to use funds for overtime, backfill needs, and employee retention in addition to hiring. 

During a time of crisis, it is necessary communities can continue to rely on local first responders for protection and emergency response. Congress must ensure fire and EMS departments have access to PPE, testing, and receive much-needed staffing support so that our nation’s first responders can operate at full capacity as we face the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Sincerely, 

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