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A plea for renewed commitment to COVID-19 prevention

Recent first responder LODDs underscore the virus’ devastating impact on public safety


COVID-19, not fires, explosions or heart attacks, is the top killer of firefighters and cops in 2020.

Associated Press/John Nacion

COVID-19 hasn’t gone away. In fact, COVID-19 has only gotten worse across the United States and around the world. This week, the U.S. hit a new record for the most new cases reported in a single day: 121,000.

This week, we were also reminded of the grim impact COVID-19 is having on public safety. Harold Boone, 49, a Monroe County (Georgia) Emergency Service firefighter/emergency medical responder died after a month-long battle with COVID-19. Boone tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 19, and was soon hospitalized, placed on a ventilator and contracted double pneumonia from which he did not recover. Boone was a husband, father, grandfather and a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves.

Shon Matthews, 48, a LifeNet (Texas) paramedic, died from COVID-19 on Nov. 2. Matthews worked as a field training officer, flight paramedic, instructor and manager during his EMS career. In 2019, Matthews was honored with a Star of Life Award from the American Ambulance Association. Matthews was also a husband and father.

More than 233,000 Americans, to date, have died of COVID-19. Men, women and children of every age, race, ethnicity and health status have fallen to this terrible disease. The deaths of Boone and Matthews feel especially personal to me. Like them, I took a winding path into and have made a career in EMS that best fits my skills and talents. Like them, I am 49 years old, a husband and a father. I deeply admire their service to country, community and family, and aspire to live as they lived.

COVID-19 is killing public safety

A regular query in my social feed is, “Do you know someone who has COVID-19? Or died of COVID-19?” The unfolding stream of “no” responses quickly leads to skeptical comment writers questioning the reality of COVID-19 in our country. These responses fly in the face of late October polling data that reports that 68% of Americans know someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Personal, anecdotal experience of losing a family member, friend or work colleague to COVID-19 should make no difference in our acceptance that we are in the midst of a global pandemic. We just need to look to the effect of COVID-19 on our brothers and sisters in public safety.

COVID-19, not fires, explosions or heart attacks, is the top killer of firefighters and cops in 2020. On Sept. 10, the U.S. Fire Administration reported “18 confirmed on-duty firefighter deaths attributed to COVID-19, making it the leading cause of death so far this year.” We believe these confirmed deaths are below actual deaths. In May we reported the deaths of 29 fire service personnel, per NFFF.

The Officer Down Memorial Page currently lists 132 law enforcement officers died as a result of contracting the virus in the line of duty. This is more than the number of police officers killed in firearms- or traffic-related incidents. The ODMP also reports working with “dozens of other agencies that have suffered COVID-19-related deaths as they work to make confirmed or presumed determinations of line-of-duty status.”

Our directory of EMS COVID-19 deaths, including some cross-trained firefighters, includes 40 EMS providers from 12 different states. Because EMS lacks a national injury and fatality tracking entity, it is likely, despite our best efforts, that we are under-reporting EMS provider deaths from COVID-19.

Honor their deaths

In honor of Firefighter/EMR Boone, Paramedic Matthews, and the 200 or more EMTs, paramedics, firefighters, police officers and corrections officers who have succumbed to COVID-19, I am renewing my commitment to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and further deaths by:

  • Listening to and following the science related to COVID-19 transmission, prevention and treatment.

  • Wearing a mask and practicing social distancing when I am inside any building other than my home.

  • Washing my hands and sanitizing work surfaces.

  • Making sure my children are taking the same precautions at school and following all school COVID-19 related guidelines.

  • Getting the flu vaccine and staying informed about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Please take care of yourself, on- and off-duty. Your life is precious to me, as well as your family, friends and colleagues. If there is more I can do to make sure you return home safely at the end of each shift, I will do it.

Read next: COVID-19 fatalities among EMS clinicians: The available data on EMS COVID-19 fatalities points to an increased risk over other healthcare and public safety personnel

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.