Quick Take: Education, data reporting key to strengthening overwhelmed public health safety net

Fire and EMS leaders gather with the Center for Firefighter Injury Research & Safety Trends to discuss the path ahead for public safety


The Center for Firefighter Injury Research & Safety Trends (FIRST Center) recently hosted a webinar to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the opportunities and challenges related to equipment, apparatus, staffing models, standards and advocacy. 

The webinar, “EMS’S 9/11: Where Will We Go After Coronavirus? Opportunities to Strengthen an Overwhelmed EMS Public Health Safety Net,” touched on EMS advocacy and the physical and mental health impact of this work on first responders.

Dr. Jennifer Taylor, PhD, MPH, CPPS, the director of the FIRST Center at the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University moderated the discussion with fire and EMS leaders across the country.

Panelists included:

  • Chief Dan Froelich of San Diego Fire
  • Lieutenant Robert Borse of Dallas Fire-Rescue
  • Robert McClintock, Deputy Director of the International Association of Fire Fighters
  • Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell, President and CEO of the International Public Safety Data Institute
  • Dr. William Jenaway, President of the Congressional Fire Services Institute Board of Directors
  • John Mones, EMS specialist at the National Fire Protection Association

The panel discussed current operations during the COVID-19 pandemic and what they foresee in the future of firefighters and EMS.

Top quotes on the impact of COVID-19 on first responders

Here are a few quotes from the panelists:

“The pandemic is shining a light on a system under incredible stress and at a breaking point.”

— Dr. Jennifer Taylor

“We have taught communities to expect more and more from us as our budgets get cut year after year.”

— Lieutenant Robert Borse

“We’re not firefighters, we’re all hazard responders.”

— Dr. William Jenaway

Top takeaways on fire and EMS expectations during and after the pandemic

Here are the top 3 takeaways from the panelists.

1. Public education is crucial to influence legislative change

While public safety professionals are well aware of what the job entails, too many legislators and members of the general public do not. We need to educate the public that 60-90% of the work a fire department does is EMS-related.

2. Track exposure to hazards to shape future legislation

Firefighters and EMS have been a critical piece of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, but while many in government have praised the doctors and nurses, EMS may not be receiving the recognition they deserve. With the likelihood of budget cuts looming, we need to be able to demonstrate the value EMS providers and firefighters bring to the community. The best way to do this is through data which can be shown to legislators and give concrete reasons why we need to support our fire departments.

One way to collect that data is through the free NFORS mobile app. Developed by the International Public Safety Data Institute (IPSDI) it enables fire and EMS to track exposures to COVID-19 and other hazards, and the types of calls you respond to. This data can be shared with IPSDI to help shape future legislation. Additionally, your specific department can pay for an associated system that helps track station data as a whole.

3. Take care of your team

Firefighters and EMS providers encounter life and death situations regularly and have been pushed even harder during this pandemic. This is an especially hard time because there’s no “normal” when you’re off the clock and you go home. Check in with each other and make time for your own mental health because this situation isn’t going to end any time soon.

Additional resources on shoring up fire and EMS

Learn more about supporting members and influencing legislative change with these resources:

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