NORFOLK, Va. - Many first responders are putting themselves in harm’s way as the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate families.
Lawrence Brown has been on the front lines of the outbreak. As a Norfolk professional firefighter and EMT, he said he and his crew worry about the virus on every call.
“We need to have our men and women to be able to respond to the citizens and be able to be protected,” Brown said. “And not only are we protecting us, we’re protecting our citizens.”
Fire departments across the country have added new procedures to keep firefighters safe during the pandemic, but Brown said it’s not enough. As the Norfolk Local 68 union president, Brown is pushing for more access for immediate COVID testing and to be compensated if they do contract the virus.
“If that firefighter has to go into a 14-day quarantine, some places, that firefighter has to use his own sick time,” said Brown. “Some places, that firefighter is not reimbursed.”
State Delegate Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) said he’s been working closely with Brown and other fire officials to make sure all first responders are taken care of.
“This is about protecting our first responders,” Jones said. “We’ve been asking them time and time again - whether it’s firefighters, police officers, medical professionals - to put themselves on the line. I think we owe it to them to show our appreciation, but also give them an opportunity to be compensated should they contract this illness on the job.”
Jones is now drafting legislation to once again expand workers’ compensation coverage for first responders if they do happen to contract the illness on the job.
“We are still in these uncertain times in which we don’t know how COVID spreads and how widespread it might be, and whether there is going to be a surge, so this legislation is aimed at putting a safety net in the code for our first responders,” said Jones.
Jones plans to introduce the bill during a special session this summer and believes it will have the support of his colleagues.
Meantime, Norfolk Fire Rescue PIO and Battalion Chief Damon Langley told News 3 no one in the department has tested positive for COVID and they do readily test firefighters believed to have been exposed.