St. Louis FF-EMT discusses local funding, vaccines in roundtable with President Joe Biden

St. Louis Firefighter-EMT Demetris "Al" Alfred told the president his biggest concern was financial support to avoid layoffs and budget cuts

By Laura French

WASHINGTON — A St. Louis firefighter-EMT and union leader spoke with President Joe Biden in a roundtable Tuesday to discuss the needs of first responders such as funding for local departments and access to the COVID-19 vaccine. 

St. Louis Firefighter-EMT Demetris "Al" Alfred, who is the president of both St. Louis Firefighters Local 73 and the Missouri State Council of Fire Fighters, spoke during the virtual Roundtable with Black Essential Workers moderated by Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice on Feb. 23.

Alfred told Biden about the ways first responders' work has changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and said his number one request from the federal government was for financial support to keep local departments afloat. 

"If I had a magic wand, I would say that I'd want that wand to make sure that we get the proper funding to sustain our jobs so we can respond and help the citizens of our community," Alfred said. 

Alfred said fire and EMS personnel in St. Louis have been very resourceful in adapting to the changes brought by the pandemic, but that some departments in Missouri and across the country are still facing challenges maintaining staffing and PPE supply. 

"We would like to make certain that we could get the funding down to the local level and to the fire departments in particular so we can still purchase the PPE to sustain us, to get our equipment, and things like that," Alfred said. "And most importantly, we'd like to get support so we wouldn't have budget cuts or have to endure any pay cuts or layoffs. That's a big worry." 

Alfred also mentioned that St. Louis has been working to get as many firefighters and EMS providers vaccinated as possible and ensure they are able to get in line for the vaccines. 

Biden responded that he is working to pass legislation that includes $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local and territorial governments to help communities balance their budgets amidst lost revenue and prevent layoffs of essential workers, as well as $160 billion for resources to boost vaccine distribution and COVID-19 testing.

He also stated that he is working to increase the number of vaccine doses available throughout the country, saying he plans to have more than 600 million doses available by the end of July. Biden said his hope is to get vaccines into drug stores so people can easily walk in and receive it "just like for flu shots." Biden said it will be up to each state to decide who gets vaccine priority. 

Biden added that he owes a lot to firefighters and EMTs, mentioning how his and his sons' lives were saved by first responders in the past. 

Other participants in the roundtable included a Walgreens pharmacist from Chicago, a child care center employee from Columbus, Ohio and a Hyvee Grocers district store manager from Cedar Rapids, Idaho. The roundtable also discussed financial support and protection against COVID-19 exposure throughout industries and communities, and efforts to increase access to and confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine in Black communities.

Read next: Incoming American Ambulance Association President Shawn Baird advises leaders on how to leverage their resources and reflects on his discussion with the Biden/Harris transition team in an interview with Rob Lawrence. 

Listen: Fire Chief Marc Bashoor discusses how a single federal parent organization to oversee all fire and EMS could be the next "giant leap" for public safety. 

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