New legislation aims to support families of fallen or disabled first responders due to COVID-19

CORONAVIRUS: Lawmakers working on new ideas to support first responders

First responders risk their lives to protect others even in these challenging times.

The coronavirus has been devastating for some police and fire departments across the country.

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New numbers from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation show more than 50 firefighters and EMS workers nationwide have died from being exposed while on the job.

According to the National Fraternal Order of Police, more than 100 officers have passed away from COVID-19 exposure, including three in Florida.

A new measure called the Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act of 2020 would ensure first responders who die or are permanently disabled due to COVID-19 receive full federal benefits. The proposed legislation passed the Senate but awaits House approval.

Chief Keith Powers with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department said the bill would support first responders’ families when the unthinkable happens. “That benefit is extremely important to make sure those families don’t ever have to worry about anything ever again should something God forbid happen,” Chief Powers said.

If a firefighter is exposed to the coronavirus, JFRD treats it as a work-related injury. So far, 81 JFRD members, or roughly 5% of the department, have been quarantined at some point in the past couple of months.

JFRD had up to 78 firefighters in self-isolation at the same time back in April.

Right now, three firefighters are in quarantine after unknowingly coming into contact with a gunshot wound patient who was asymptomatic and tested positive for the virus at the hospital.

Overall, Chief Powers said the department has been very fortunate with a low percentage of firefighters exposed to the virus.

He credits early planning and updated safety policies with protecting the first responders.

Chief Powers said lessons learned from COVID-19 will be used down the road if needed.

Some of the biggest takeaways he said include sending one firefighter into a home or business when responding to a call to make sure the patient is masked and limit potential exposure, as well as having firefighters field emergency calls to determine how much protective personal equipment (PPE) is needed while crews are in route.

“It stopped us from wasting PPE, so we weren’t using the maximum amount of PPE on every call, on calls we knew probably weren’t COVID related,” Chief Power said. “It also allowed us to get them in the proper level of PPE on the ones we felt were COVID related."

Chief Powers said his main goal is to send the JFRD members home safely to their families every day.“We’re going to do whatever that takes to make that happen,” Chief Powers said.