Senators want PPE, test kits for firefighters

Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, are urging the federal Coronavirus Task Force to secure personal protective equipment and testing kits for firefighters and federal enforcement personnel engaged in wildlife response.

The senators said in a letter on Monday, May 18, to Vice President Mike Pence that their understanding is that the supply of PPE in the federal interagency inventories does not meet the expected need and firefighters are having trouble acquiring additional PPE on their own.

Pence is the chairman of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

“We also understand that many of the available testing methods may not be conducive for wide scale use,” they said. “We ask that resources be used to develop and support an effective system of COVID-19 testing tailored to protecting firefighter health and maintaining the cohesiveness of federal wildland fire response.”

“Wildland fires often occur in rural and remote areas, and already-taxed rural and tribal health services should not be expected to have the resources to manage COVID-19 cases coming from an active fire camp or when crews arrive in their hometowns after demobilizing from a fire,” they wrote. “Firefighters and fire support staff put their lives on the line every day to protect us, and we need to make every effort to protect them from this virus, so they can safely fight fires and return to their families when the fires are out.”

Murkowski chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. Manchin is the ranking member of ENR and Udall is a ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee.