NFFF: Number of fire, EMS personnel COVID-19 deaths hits 50
Fire and EMS leaders reflect on the grim milestone, as 29 fire service and 21 EMS members have died from the virus
The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) announced Monday that the number of fire and EMS COVID-19 deaths has reached 50 – 29 fire service personnel and 21 EMS personnel.
“Our hearts are heavy, filled with the deepest of sympathies for these lost brothers and sisters, and we remain committed to ensuring that they are never forgotten,” NFFF Executive Director Ron Siarnicki shared with FireRescue1.
The number of COVID-19 deaths is staggering, particularly considering the recent fire service rallying cry to “Get Below 50” annual firefighter line-of-duty deaths (LODDs).
If all 29 COVID-19 deaths are ultimately classified as LODDs, that means that only five months into the year, the fire service has already reached 53 LODDs. This includes the 24 non-COVID-19 LODDs identified by the U.S. Fire Administration. (Note: The USFA currently lists 11 COVID-19 deaths; classification of additional COVID-19 deaths will likely require further clarification as to how the disease was contracted.)
While organizations work to track and identify the exact number of first responder LODDs, Siarnicki emphasized the commitment of first responders: “As this pandemic continues, our nation’s first responders remain dedicated to serving their communities while on the front lines. Each day, they place themselves in harm’s way and, regrettably, the risk to each of them has increased dramatically.”
Fire Chief Marc Bashoor, FireRescue1 executive editor, also reflected on the 50 COVID-19 deaths and the risks to fire and EMS personnel: “In the traditional sense of fires and traumatic incidents, first responders sign on knowing that death and destruction may be right around the corner, every day. But this grim milestone – the result of an invisible and previously unknown virus – is a solemn reminder of just how dangerous and volatile this job can be. For those amongst us who have not yet taken protective measures for their staff and the communities we serve, please take this wakeup call seriously – it may be the last chance you have.”
Rob Lawrence, principal of Robert Lawrence Consulting and chair of the American Ambulance Association's Communications Committee, offered the following thoughts: "A single death is extremely sad – 50 is an absolute tragedy and represents the passing of spouses, parents, grandparents, cousins and members of our close work family. EMS and public safety is not just a job, but a way of life, and when we lose someone that close, a little bit of all of us dies. The task ahead is now to carry on in their names and memories on the front lines while protecting ourselves as best we can and in the hope that we don’t have to say farewell to other responders. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten. In the words of the British service of remembrance, 'At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.'"
It will also take time sort through the issue of LODD benefits, which will depend on several factors, but progress is afoot.
On Friday, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that establishes a temporary presumption that COVID-19 is a work-related injury, ensuring that families of first responders who die from the disease will receive line-of-duty death benefits through the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program.
In a statement honoring the fallen first responders, Siarnicki commented on efforts to support the families and loved ones of fallen fire and EMS personnel: “Federal legislation is being considered, states are looking at their presumptive regulations, and while we do not know the final outcome of any of these initiatives, what we do know is that as of this writing, 50 of our fire and EMS brothers and sisters are no longer with us. Determinations as to LODD benefits will be made at some point down the road, but for now, we must honor the fallen, support the families, coworkers, departments and communities that suffered these losses. There will be plenty of time later to discuss LODD classifications. No matter what, the NFFF is out there engaged through our Local Assistance State Teams working to support each fallen member and their loved ones.”