Terrorism seems to be the buzzword in the fire service, and this is as it should be. We think of the World Trade Center incidents of 9/11 and in 1993. We think of Oklahoma City. As Americans we are prime targets of many extremist groups. When we think of weapons of mass destruction, we categorize...
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If a smallpox release happens, those personnel who are not vaccinated - which are the majority of firefighters and EMS workers - would be exposed immediately, and they should be considered contaminated and potentially infected. According to the health department physicians who were present, the infected people should be quarantined for a minimum of 17 days after exposure. This means after the first response to contaminated patients, these firefighters, EMS workers, police officers and hospital workers would be out of the picture for further responses to any other patients. This would destroy most EMS systems and inundate hospitals in the opening moments of an event. The now presumably contaminated first responders would be a danger to the public and to their families. They would in most cases be unable see their families for three weeks. They would not be able to do their jobs as EMS workers. They would become part of the problem immediately.
Every day, we see something in a newspaper or a magazine or on TV about the threat of smallpox and other biological agents. What disturbs me is that we appear to recognize our vulnerabilities, yet I sense no urgency on the part of government is addressing these issues. I can't be the only one who feels complete frustration and sees the importance of addressing this loaded issue in a timely manner.
We as fire chiefs and fire and EMS services should make our voices heard. Directors of fire and EMS departments, health departments and the CEOs of hospitals should implore their congressmen and senators to immediately set in motion a program of mass vaccinations, at the least for first responder and hospital personnel.
Fire and police chiefs should speak to the international associations of fire and police chiefs to lobby for such a program. Union heads and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) should make their voices heard. If we are to do the job we are entrusted to do, give us the tools we need and do it now. THE CLOCK IS TICKING.
Chief Concerns is a forum addressing issues of interest to chief fire officers. Opinions expressed are those of the writer. We invite all volunteer and career chief fire officers to share their concerns, experiences and views in this column. Please submit articles to Chief Concerns, Firehouse Magazine, 445 Broad Hollow Road, Melville, NY 11747.