U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, recently sent a letter requesting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Department of the Interior (DOI) combine efforts to allocate personal protective equipment (PPE) and rapid COVID-19 tests for federal wildland fire crews.
Below are excerpts from Murkowski’s letter:
“Wildfires, like viruses, respect no boundaries. As we seek to contain COVID-19, there will be hundreds of instances where thousands of federal and non-federal firefighters are dispatched across state borders to battle blazes in rural locations.
“Given the intergovernmental nature of federal wildland fire response, the federal government has a unique responsibility to ensure a sufficient supply chain of PPE and rapid testing for all wildfire crews, in coordination with their state counterparts. Accordingly, I ask that FEMA, HHS, USDA, and DOI make it their shared mission to prevent outbreaks of COVID-19 on the front lines.”
Murkowski asked that agencies coordinate with state governments to ensure fire crews that are likely to be assigned to federal wildland fire incidents are strongly supported. She also asked the agencies to provide her with specific updates and information, including:
- The current PPE need for the wildland fire services at DOI and USDA Forest Service;
- Whether the National Response Coordinating Center will provide PPE assistance to federal wildland fire crews;
- What can be done to provide wildland fire crews and support staff with the most accurate COVID-19 tests; and
- How tests can be administered before deployment, during assignment, and after demobilization.