Firefighters feel left out in vaccine rollout

There was some confusion on when they'd get the shots
Posted at 6:47 PM, Dec 16, 2020

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — When the CDC announced the pecking order for who would get the COVID-19 vaccination and when, firefighters were a little puzzled.

The agency’s 1-A tier – those among the first to receive the shots – included doctors, nurses, healthcare workers and EMS professionals. But firefighters, by name, were listed in the next tier, 1-B.

RELATED: WATCH: MDHHS releases list of priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination

But in many places in the country, and in West Michigan, firefighters do most of their work as healthcare providers. Gary Ludwig, former president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and a current fire chief in Illinois, says some departments chalk up to 60-80% of their calls to medical.

“The majority of what we do is EMS,” said Ludwig. “When you see all the marvelous work that the doctors and the nurses are doing on television – in the emergency rooms, in the hospitals – those patients got there, and they got there somehow. And how they got there is through the fire service. We’re the largest provider of emergency services in the united states.”

RELATED: Michigan tops 11,000 COVID-19 deaths in latest update

RELATED: Whitmer: Biden 'ready to work with governors' to stop COVID-19

Ludwig says fire departments transported over 35-million people to the hospital last year alone and provided care to many more on scene. He says the risk of squeezing into the back of a cramped ambulance with potential COVID patients heightens the need for firefighters to get vaccinated soon.

“We are healthcare workers delivering it not in a hospital setting or in a healthcare environment, but we are delivering it in the streets,” said Ludwig.

FOX 17 reached out to the Michigan DHHS, who confirmed firefighters with EMS or EMT licenses are in fact included in tier 1-A vaccinations. But those who don’t, will have to wait.

The IAFC and the nation’s three other leading firefighting organizations signed an open letter to the CDC, urging them to move firefighters up in line.

Ludwig and his colleagues have reason to be skeptical, he says, because fire departments weren’t prioritized in the distribution of PPE early on in the pandemic.

“Firefighters and fire chiefs were resorting to all kinds of different things including ponchos and raincoats trying to protect the firefighters,” he said. “What we saw early on in the pandemic, where firefighters were not prioritized for PPE…now the same will happen with the vaccine.”