Senators call on White House to provide PPE to wildland firefighters

Senators Lisa Murkowski, Joe Manchin and Tom Udall asked for PPE and improved virus testing as peak fire season approaches


By Laura French

WASHINGTON — Three U.S. senators have issued a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and the White House Coronavirus Task Force requesting PPE and adequate virus testing for firefighters and federal law enforcement responding to wildfires during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The letter signed by Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Joe Manchine, D-West Virginia, and Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, notes that more than 15,000 fires have burned more than 333,000 acres this year, and that a highly active fire season is expected for the summer.

In this Wednesday, May 6, 2020 photo, South Walton Fire Chief Ryan Crawford, right, speaks to Walton County Fire Rescue EMS Chief Tracey Vause, foreground, and an unidentified firefighter as they respond to a fire at Santa Rosa Beach near Highway 98 in Walton County, Fla. Three U.S. senators have sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, leader of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, requesting PPE and adequate testing methods for firefighters battling wildfires during the pandemic. (Photo/Walton County Sheriff's Office via AP)
In this Wednesday, May 6, 2020 photo, South Walton Fire Chief Ryan Crawford, right, speaks to Walton County Fire Rescue EMS Chief Tracey Vause, foreground, and an unidentified firefighter as they respond to a fire at Santa Rosa Beach near Highway 98 in Walton County, Fla. Three U.S. senators have sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, leader of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, requesting PPE and adequate testing methods for firefighters battling wildfires during the pandemic. (Photo/Walton County Sheriff's Office via AP)

"Peak fire season comes closer every day. However, it is our understanding 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," the letter reads. "We also understand that many of the available testing methods may not be conducive for wide scale use."

The senators ask that the task force work with the National Wildfire Coordinating Group to identify and fill needs in national and regional inventories for wildland firefighters, and prioritize the development of a testing method designed to protect firefighter health and preserve staffing for wildfire response. 

"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," the letter concludes. 

Copies of the letter were also distributed to the secretaries of the Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security and Department of the Interior, the U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen and FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor. 

Read the full letter below:

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