GROTON — State Sen. Heather Somers is pushing for Gov. Ned Lamont to allow trained EMTs to test firefighters at local fire stations once a week for COVID-19 as a proactive measure against the spread of the virus.
“So many of these firehouses are volunteers. They’re taking time off to fight the fires and go on the emergency calls,” said Somers noting that 10 firefighters were reported testing positive at the New London Fire Department four days ago.
There are 315 fire departments with a total of about 26,800 firefighters in Connecticut, of that number about 22,350 are volunteers, according to 2016-17 figures provided by the Connecticut State Firefighters Association.
Somers said that initially the drive-through testing facilities had a separate line for first responders that helped them but that practice fell away.
“Many of these folks need to get tested on a weekly basis because of the nature of the work that they’re doing. Now, because some of the folks in the firehouse have tested positive, they’re having to wait for hours to go through the drive through or waiting for the results,” she said.
“It’s not really an efficient way to test for first responders in any way, shape, or form.
Somers said that firefighters reached out before the election, because trained EMTs were being hired at drive-through testing facilities.
“Their question was, if we can be hired to take the samples there, can we do it on our own at the firehouse when we need to?” she said. “Some of them meet Monday nights and they have training updates where they’re all together, obviously socially distanced, but it would be the perfect time to collect the samples and test everyone if they have authority to do that, and then send the test samples off to get the results. But right now, that is not possible.”
Somers said a second option would be a drop-in testing site where firefighters would have a standing order for getting tested without an appointment. Another option would be to reinstate separate lines for first responders at testing sites.
“The easiest thing or the most efficient way would appear to be if we can allow them with the appropriate protocols to take the sample at the firehouse when they are together on a weekly basis,” she said.
Somers said she has had conversations and email exchanges with Deidre Gifford, the commissioner of the state Department of public Health concerning the difficulty and cost of obtaining tests for firefighters.
“The DPH commissioner has been briefed, she understands. She said they’re working on it and they will have a resolution shortly. I do not know what that resolution or decision will be, but she is aware of it,” Somers said.
“The big issue is we really need rapid, reliable testing that’s low cost. I know we don’t have that yet but it seems like we should be able to do a better job at making this a little bit easier than it is,” said Somers.