A fire chief’s plea to protesters: We can’t help you if you don’t help us

The more of you who break social distancing orders, the more first responders who will become sick and unable to serve


It is fair to say that COVID-19-fatigue has set in for many Americans.

While some have adjusted to working out in their garages, complaining to a spouse or seeking out new hobbies to work out frustrations, others are taking it a step further, purposely breaking social distancing directives and stay-at-home orders to assert their constitutional right to assemble.

A protester argues with police in Raleigh, N.C. The protests aim to press Gov. Roy Cooper to allow businesses to reopen during the COVID-19 outbreak.
A protester argues with police in Raleigh, N.C. The protests aim to press Gov. Roy Cooper to allow businesses to reopen during the COVID-19 outbreak. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Fortunately for most of you (not so much for us), your local first responders don’t have an opportunity, nor desire, to protest or complain about the societal inconveniences or government orders. Those inconveniences affect us and our families the same way they do you and your families. The main difference? We don’t have a choice but to go to work to serve our communities and help those who are sick amongst us.

Your first responders have been and continue to be hard at work answering every call that comes in – the house fires, heart attacks, strokes, car accidents, slip-trips-falls, shootings, drownings, downed powerlines, hazmat spills and myriad other fire- and EMS-related incidents ... and, oh yes, add all of the COVID-19 runs to the list.

Although happening at different times in different locales, flattening the curve is WHY your first responders have been able to keep up with call volumes thus far.

We need your help to KEEP the curve down. This is what will allow our first responders and healthcare workers to breathe, figuratively, at work, while allowing patients to literally breathe because enough respirators and ventilators are available at hopsitals.

So, you have two options:

  1. Feel inconvenienced by stay-at-home and social distancing orders but still have reliable emergency services or
  2. Overload the healthcare, fire and EMS systems, resulting in a lack of reliable resources and treatment options

We hold the Constitution of the United States just as dear to our hearts as you do, yet I submit to you that there is a greater good at stake here – your right to assemble should not be allowed to infringe on the nation’s health and welfare, nor your first responders’ capacity to respond. Isn’t our collective ability to be safe far more important than any one person’s right to assemble?

As a fire chief, I completely understand the relationship of budget constraints, politics and the need to keep the economy moving – remember, we operate with a force of about 400,000 paid employees and 600,000 volunteers. While the stimulus checks are nice, and the talk of hazard pay and other money holds promise for some, we cannot simply keep printing money. While we fire chiefs are not economists, we are realists and have livelihoods to maintain, just like you.

I want to get a haircut as much as you do; I’d love to sit down at my favorite restaurant and have my favorite dish; I’d love to go to a baseball game; I want to attend the canceled training and conference sessions, and hold the public CPR courses we are used to providing.

Yet now is not the time.

I implore you to use this time of relative isolation to complete projects around the house, exercise, read a book, ANYTHING but congregating in close groups.

If you do NEED to go out, the basic messaging about self-care is still the same – nothing has changed:

  • Wear a clean mask.
  • If you wear disposable gloves, dispose of them in a trash can AFTER you’re done inside a store, and before you get behind the wheel of your car. Wearing them all day just spreads contaminants from one thing to the next – the gloves are useless at that point.
  • Wash your hands every chance you get for at least 20 seconds.

And there are simple steps to follow for certain outings:

  • Church: Avoid congregating in closed buildings in close proximity to other parishioners.
  • Grocery store: Give a wide berth to people in front or behind you, and PLEASE follow the directional arrows. It really isn’t that difficult!
  • Fast food restaurant: Provide the 6-foot clearance – most places have a piece of tape on the floor to show proper distancing.

For those who are high risk or sick:

  • If you are already infirm, just stay home!
  • If you do need us, PLEASE be honest with the 911 call-takers – tell them what your symptoms are. Some people have apparently thought that we won’t come if you tell them you have traveled or have COVID-19 symptoms. We are still coming no matter what. The less-than-forthcoming 911-callers are placing our providers in an unnecessary position of extra risk.

Our exposures are VERY REAL. These exposures are manifesting all over the country, as is evidenced by the EMS service in New Jersey that has lost 13 providers to COVID – lost as in deceased!

Thousands of our firefighters and paramedics are either in some level of quarantine or isolation or they are now suffering the effects of the COVID-19 illness.

The cacophony of voices protesting social distancing orders and demanding governors open beaches, restaurants and anything else currently closed can only hamper our attempts to flatten the curve.

The more of you who demand that things open too quickly, the more of us who will become contaminated providers who are unable to help – and that means we won’t be able to help you if you get sick or your loved ones if they fall ill.

The last thing fire chiefs and EMS units need are groups protesting the public health emergency, spiking our call volumes and hospital capacities. Yet the first thing you’ll likely do WHEN you get sick will be to call us.

We implore you to help us help you by staying home as long as you possibly can.

This crisis will not last forever. The longer you stay home and stay away, the sooner you will be able to return to some normalcy.

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