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IAFC president calls on Congress to be ‘heroes’ in support of fire, EMS during pandemic

Chief Gary Ludwig testified before a House committee, detailing how legislative efforts have helped fire and EMS personnel – and where shortcomings remain


The fire service’s top fire chief testified before a House of Representatives committee on Friday, underscoring the importance of federal grant programs in America’s COVID-19 response efforts and outlining key needs to help fire and EMS members safely respond during the pandemic.

Gary Ludwig – president and chairman of the board of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), fire chief of the Champaign (Illinois) Fire Department and member of the FireRescue1 Editorial Advisory Board – testified before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology about the role of the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs

Ludwig explained to Representatives that the nation’s fire and EMS providers are “at the tip of the spear” in the fight against COVID-19, requiring enhanced PPE protection and sanitation procedures. The problem, he explained: “Fire chiefs were unable to receive this equipment from the federal government and the states. They were forced to purchase necessary supplies on the open market, which meant that a rural volunteer fire department could be competing with the states of New York and California for supplies. In some cases, fire chiefs had to buy rain gear to protect their personnel as they treated COVID-19 patients. In other cases, fire chiefs have been forced to contend with disreputable suppliers and a flood of counterfeit N95 masks from overseas.”

Because the economic slowdown is cutting revenue for local jurisdictions, fire departments are planning for budget cuts this summer, fall and next year. Small volunteer fire departments are being hurt worse, as they are forced to cancel fundraisers due to social distancing requirements.

The bottom line: Fire departments are caught in a vise, where the cost of supplies and personnel to provide service to their communities is increasing while revenue to support these operations is decreasing.

Ludwig detailed how legislative efforts have helped fire and EMS personnel – and where shortcomings remain.

Chief Ludwig ultimately called for Congress to be the “heroes in Washington D.C. to help us fight this unseen enemy” by:

  • Providing direct assistance to fire and EMS agencies through FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) programs and the HHS’s Supporting and Improving Rural EMS Needs (SIREN) grant program.
  • Making fire and EMS departments top priorities for the distribution of COVID-19 supplies, testing and vaccines.
  • Notifying fire and EMS departments of drug shortages.
  • Supporting tax incentives for local volunteer fire and EMS personnel.
  • Repealing the auction of the public safety spectrum in the T-Band (470 MHz – 512 MHz).

Chief Ludwig also thanked Congress and the Trump Administration, especially the U.S. Fire Administration, for the assistance that already has been provided during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch the full testimony on C-SPAN here:

Read Ludwig’s full comments before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology below.

Janelle Foskett is the editor-in-chief of, responsible for defining original editorial content, tracking industry trends, managing expert contributors and leading execution of special coverage efforts. She also serves as the co-host of FireRescue1’s Better Every Shift podcast. Foskett joined the Lexipol team in 2019 and has nearly 20 years of experience in fire service media and publishing. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and a certificate in technical communications from the University of California, San Diego. Ask questions or submit ideas via email.