LITTLE ROCK, Ark — Three Little Rock firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19.
The Arkansas Professional Fire Fighter’s Association wants to know all firefighters will be protected while they’re on the front lines of the pandemic.
“It’s definitely a challenging time because this is a such a contagious virus, so we’re having to use extreme caution,” Little Rock Fire Dept. Fire Chief Delphone Hubbard said.
Two people are back at work after self-quarantining.
“Twenty-five of them are fire recruits. Five are fire training instructors and then three of them were assigned to an operations bureau that responds to calls in the community,” Hubbard said.
Arkansas Professional Firefighters President Wade Marshall said it’s a new unseen threat.
“A house fire is a very dangerous environment to work in, but we’re adequately equipped, we’re adequately prepared, we train for it all the time,” Marshall said.
The association is asking Governor Asa Hutchinson to look into the legality of an executive order to have this preemptively covered under workers’ comp.
“Nursing homes, especially one or two of them, have seen high infection rates. What if someone burns popcorn in a break room, you’re going through to make sure the place is not on fire,” Marshall said.
Practices for taking leave vary at departments across the state and this would ease fears.
“I’ve talked to several guys that have never dreaded a tone going off or a call, but now they’re just scared to death about what kind of call it’s going to be,” Marshall said.
They’re also concerned about how contracting COVID-19 could affect their lungs long-term.
“If you can’t be a firefighter anymore, you can have that as a line of duty retirement where you can retire under our disability retirement system,” Marshall said.
Marshall said this would also take care of their families if the worst happens.
“If one of our members passes away from COVID-19 infection, that would open up the ability for them to make a claim under the Line of Duty Death Benefit,” Marshall said.
He said all first responders should have this coverage.
We asked about available personal protective equipment for firefighters and we’re told that varies by department.
We also reached out to Governor Hutchinson’s Office for a response to the association’s request, but we haven’t heard back yet.