When the call comes in about the next emergency, we are in immediate motion. From structure fires to vehicle accidents to medical emergencies, our firefighters and emergency medical technicians are often the first on the scene.

The coronavirus crisis doesn’t change our members’ desire to put their lives on the line to help others. It’s what we take an oath to do. But it does make everyone think twice as they head to the scene.

What if this patient is unconscious or there is a language barrier? How will we know if we are exposing ourselves and our families to this deadly virus?

In Chicago and other Illinois communities, there is a debate about providing first responders notice if a residential address we are responding to has someone who is COVID-19-positive. The reason is obvious: If we know the disease is present when we respond, we can prepare and wear extra protective gear.

Our association has urged its more than 15,000 members in 224 communities to treat each patient as having COVID-19, to protect themselves. But we agree with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul: Each community has the authority under Illinois law to institute these necessary protective protocols, and firefighters and emergency medical services personnel should receive these patient notifications.

The more information we have as we prepare to respond, the better the outcome for all involved. When someone calls 911 for help, we want to be able to administer the best care possible and keep everyone safe and healthy. We always have and always will respect everyone’s privacy. It’s one of the reasons why our profession is consistently rated as one of the most trusted and ethical in America.

 

— Chuck Sullivan, president, Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, Springfield