Firefighter shortage could lead to lag in 911 response, says union official

A firefighter shortage could lead to a lag in response times after 911 calls, an International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) official said on Monday.

Jim Brinkley, an assistant to the IAFF general president for technical assistance, told Hill.TV that “a serious delay” is possible in some parts of the country due to fewer available firefighters and a lack of personal protective equipment. 

“Look, we saw the outrage when people went to the grocery stores, and they were out of toilet paper," Brinkley said. "Imagine calling 911 and the dispatcher telling you, ‘You’re just gonna have to sit tight and wait. We don’t have enough firefighters to go around.’”

He also noted that in some places, a quarter of the firefighter population is “out of service” after testing positive for COVID-19, meaning those who are not infected are working extra shifts.

“We’re at a critical point here,” Brinkley said. “We keep hearing about public health. We are the first link in that public health chain, and when that link breaks, the whole system can fail.”

Brinkley called for more personal protective equipment and testing for firefighters to ensure the virus is not spreading among other first responders. 

“We have to protect the protectors,” he said. “It’s the only way we’re going to succeed here.”

The coronavirus pandemic is straining the hospital systems across the country, as more than 347,000 people have been diagnosed with the disease and at least 10,335 people have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.