April 17, 2020

Congressmen Neguse and Curtis Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Ensure the Health of Firefighters and Wildfire Emergency Response Teams During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The legislation would require a report to Congress outlining actions taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect the respiratory health of local communities

Washington D.C.—Today, Congressman Joe Neguse, with the support of Congressman John Curtis (R-UT) introduced theWildfire and Community Health Response Act of 2020, bipartisan legislation aimed at supporting the health of firefighters and emergency response teams and mitigating the impact of wildfires on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill directs the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior to jointly report to Congress on their efforts to mitigate wildfire risk, as wildfire smoke can have a severe impact on the respiratory health of nearby populations. The report must also identify the steps being taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 among emergency response personnel. Additionally, the report shall offer recommendations from the Secretaries as to what Federal support is required to successfully support these activities.

“I’m proud to stand up for our brave firefighters and emergency response teams to ensure that they are provided with the safe working conditions they deserve to protect our communities,” said Congressman Neguse. “Over half of Colorado’s second congressional district consists of public lands, and with wildfire season approaching it is vital that Congress ensures a safe and supportive working environment to mitigate wildfires and protect the respiratory health of our neighbors.”

“Colorado’s firefighters and first responders have been called to the frontlines many times to help our state respond during a crisis,” said Colorado Governor Jared Polis. “We can’t thank them enough for their service and sacrifice, and must ensure we are doing all we can to support them during this difficult time. I applaud Congressman Neguse for bringing this bill forward and urge Congress to take swift action on this important legislation.”

“Fire and EMS response to emergencies has been significantly impacted by COVID-19 as we struggle with PPE requirements and minimize exposure potentials to responders,” said Evergreen Fire Chief Mike Weege.  “Access to accurate science, policy recommendations and appropriate PPE is imperative to keeping our wildland firefighters healthy and available to respond to large fire events that are now an annual national crisis.”

“It has been well documented that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of suppression,” said Estes Valley Fire Chief David Wolf. “Steps taken now can help reduce the risk of a catastrophic fire and help keep responders safe and healthy, focused on fewer incidents.”

“As we address the COVID-19 pandemic, our land management agencies must ensure that wildland firefighters are healthy and ready to respond to the upcoming fire season, while also taking steps to minimize wildfire risk for the coming months,” saidCongressman Curtis. “Our Wildfire and Community Health Response Act will require both the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to report on how they are simultaneously accomplishing these goals and protecting our communities from a pandemic and wildfire disaster happening back to back. I am glad to see the agencies are already taking steps to protect both firefighters and the land and I look forward to continuing to work with the Administration as well as my colleagues, such as Mr. Neguse, to protect our communities.”

Read the bill text here. 

Congressman Neguse also sent a letter to the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the CDC requesting that testing priority be given to firefighters, police officers and other first responders who are working to protect Colorado communities, in particular in the midst of wildfire season.