‘We cannot lose our workforce’: IAFC considers surgical masks recommendation

In their weekly webinar, members of the IAFC COVID-19 Task Force provided updated guidelines and advice for members battling the virus

By Rachel Engel 

In this week’s webinar, IAFC Coronavirus Task Force members stressed the importance of PPE supply awareness, and urged local leaders to use good judgment to determine if wearing surgical masks at the station is feasible and necessary.  

Task Force Chair Chief John Sinclair said that while new guidelines from the IAFF and the CDC recommend wearing a surgical mask while at the station, the ability of individual departments to do so hinges on their supply levels.  

Sinclair stressed that social distancing – maintaining a six-foot radius from others – has proven an effective mitigation strategy.  

“It’s going to be down to the local level as it relates to what PPE you have and what your burn rate is,” he said. “If you’ve got enough PPE and can have your folks wear masks in the station, that’s great. Our concern is that there’s not a lot of PPE in the pipeline, and it’s going to be difficult for most folks to wear surgical masks in and around the station.” 

Task force member Dr. James Augustine, FACEP, agrees with Sinclair that wearing masks when possible is the best recommendation per new CDC guidelines, extending to patient interactions.  

“The single most important thing we do to prevent infection is to put a mask on the patient, that is a surgical mask or face cover, not an N95 mask,” Augustine said. In addition, as allergy season ramps up, the doctor recommends that nebulizer treatments be done outside and with emergency personnel standing six feet away from the patient.  

“The droplets that come out as vapor or from the patient coughing, means those are potentially infectious agents,” Augustine said. He also recommends putting a sheet over the patient prior to the procedure, so any droplets from the treatment do not get on the patient’s clothes, and the sheet can then be left at the scene.  

The webinar also included a presentation from U.S. Fire Administrator G. Keith Bryant and Deputy Section Chief Starlene Black of the FEMA Public Assistance Training Office regarding a simplified process for requesting FEMA public assistance grants related to COVID-19.  

View the full webinar below:  


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