State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis sent a letter to the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday urging the agency to reconsider guidance that excludes firefighters from the first wave of people receiving COVID-19 vaccinations.
This week, the CDC ranked health care workers and long-term care residents as the highest-priority group for vaccine distribution.
Notably absent among the first recipients: firefighters, law enforcement and other first responders.
“Frankly, treating our heroes as though all they do is shoot water from a truck demonstrates an incredible lack of understanding of what is expected of today’s professional firefighters,” Patronis wrote to Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC’s director.
Patronis noted that 90% of Florida’s 38,000 firefighters are EMT or paramedic certified.
What’s more, he contended, firefighters are involved throughout the life support process, often in perilous and uncontrolled environments.
“In many cases, they do not have the benefit of operating in properly prepared or well-sanitized environments,” Patronis wrote. “Florida’s firefighters respond to long-term care facilities, rehab centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, shelters, and other facilities that put them at greater risk for exposure.”
Patronis, who also serves as the state’s Chief Financial Officer, added that firefighters serving in small stations often lack the appropriate personal protective equipment needed to protect themselves from the virus.
He stressed that some firehouses have closed to prevent virus spread among first responders and the community.
“When a firehouse goes down it becomes that much more difficult to get critical lifesaving support to those who need it most,” Patronis warned.
With the Food and Drug Administration set to approve coronavirus vaccines in a few weeks, Patronis urged CDC officials to reclassify firefighters as health care personnel.
“If you want to save lives let’s fix this classification error and ensure we’re getting these vaccines to the right people as quickly as possible,” he concluded.
Patronis’ letter to the CDC is below.