As Wildfire Season Approaches, Udall Leads Push In Letter To Pence To Secure PPE, COVID-19 Testing For Firefighters

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall

U.S. SENATE News:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, joined Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), ranking member of the Senate ENR Committee in a bipartisan letter Wednesday to Vice President Mike Pence urging the White House Coronavirus Task Force to assist the nation’s firefighters and national law enforcement in procuring Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing as wildfire season approaches.

Udall joined the letter as the National Weather Service in Albuquerque warned of critical fire conditions for the central and northern regions of New Mexico, as current high temperatures, low humidity and high winds increase the risk of wildfires. As the state and the West prepare for wildfire season, firefighters have expressed concern about access to PPE and testing necessary to protect themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Peak fire season comes closer every day,” the senators wrote. “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. We also understand that many of the available testing methods may not be conducive for wide scale use.”

“We ask that resources be used to develop and support an effective system of COVID-19 testing tailored to protecting firefighter health and maintaining the cohesiveness of federal wildland fire response,” the senators continued. 

“Wildland fires often occur in rural and remote areas, and already-taxed rural and tribal health services should not be expected to have the resources to manage COVID-19 cases coming from an active fire camp or when crews arrive in their hometowns after demobilizing from a fire.

“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 senators concluded. 

The full text of the letter can be found here.

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