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A letter to the American public: You can help keep our firefighters safe

Follow these actions to limit spread of the virus and stay informed


There are no stay home orders for your local fire department. Your firefighters always respond when called. Please do your part to help them return safely to their families.

Photo/Spokane Fire Department

Thirty-four firefighters in our nation’s capital, 241 in New York and 15 in San Jose.

Hundreds of firefighters across the country have COVID-19. Those numbers will have likely increased by the time you read this. The reality is harsh. Even with PPE and strong infection control procedures, hundreds of firefighters are sick. Some have died.

They’re not looking for sympathy. They’re not looking for glory. The nation’s fire service is turning to you for help.

There are many actions you can take to keep our firefighters safe. And many of these actions will help prevent harm to others on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle, like police officers, nurses and doctors.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Stay home and practice social distancing. We know it’s getting tired and old. We know staying home is stressful and frustrating. But it’s an essential action that keeps us all safe.
  • Call 911 for emergencies only. If you need assistance, firefighters, paramedics and EMTs will be there. Many communities have stepped up their non-emergency lines to offer guidance during the crisis.
  • Call 911 for emergencies only. The repetition is not a typo – it’s a reminder. If you think you have an emergency, call 911. We don’t want you to hesitate to call for real emergencies, like heart attacks, household accidents and fires. These are emergencies, and firefighters are here to take care of you.
  • Announce a diagnosis. If you do need to call 911, alert the call-taker to anyone in your household that has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or has experienced any symptoms, such as cough or fever. Firefighters will be there to help but will take the precautions needed to ensure they can keep doing their job throughout this pandemic. The 911 call-taker will likely ask additional questions. Please be patient and answer these questions.
  • List needed medications. Make a list of all medications being taken by each member of your household, along with a medical history. Do it now, just in case. New rules in many communities will prevent relatives and friends from riding in the ambulance or even entering the hospital. We understand how scary this thought is, but being prepared can help ensure your loved one is getting the most appropriate care. Make sure those lists are handy.
  • Have a go-bag. Collect a few things a loved one might need if they must go to the hospital. A phone charger, eyeglasses, wallet, ID and insurance card(s) are great things to include.
  • Follow us on social media. Follow your local fire department and emergency management agency on social media. They’ll have additional COVID-19 safety tips and keep you updated on changing procedures and policies.

And since you’re at home, there’s no time like the present to prepare for and practice for other types of emergencies:

  • Plan your emergency escape. Every household needs to have a home escape plan in the event of fire. There are great tools available on the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s Be A Hero, Save Hero app and at the NFPA’s Sparky website. If you have children at home, make them an active participant in putting the plan together. It’s an activity with immediate and long-term benefits – and let’s face it, who doesn’t want to escape their house right now?
  • Think like a firefighter. Firefighters work hard each day to be prepared for anything and everything that comes along. Being prepared will help you tackle problems effectively. It also minimizes stress. If you feel prepared, you’ll feel more in control.

There are no stay home orders for your local fire department. Your firefighters always respond when called. Please do your part to help them return safely to their families.

Editor’s’ Note: What advice do you want to share with your community to help keep firefighters safe? Share in the comments below.

Chief Ronald Siarnicki began his fire service career with the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department in 1978 and progressed through the ranks to chief. In July 2001, Chief Siarnicki retired from the Prince George’s County to become the executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. He is a graduate of the master’s program, school of management and technology at the University of Maryland, University College and has a bachelor’s degree in fire science management from UMUC. Prior to joining the Prince George’s County, he served as a volunteer firefighter with the Monessen VFD Hose House 2 and currently serves with the United Communities VFD in Stevensville, Maryland. Siarnicki is a member of the FireRescue1/Fire Chief Editorial Advisory Board. Connect with Siarnicki on LinkedIn.