First responders call for new laws to protect them if they get COVID-19

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In many states, first responders are calling for new laws to protect them if they’re infected with COVID-19.

They say it should be treated like an on-the-job injury.

Even with gear and protective equipment, first responders are concerned about the risks to exposure that come with doing their jobs.

“It’s safe to say that probably about 25% of the firefighters have at one point or another tested positive for COVID,” said Chris Parsons, a firefighter in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Parsons is leading the effort to get lawmakers to pass a bill that would presume that first responders who contacted COVID did so as a direct result of their job.

The bill would allow first responders to continue getting a paycheck, and not be forced to use sick days or pay for health care out-of-pocket.

“It’s the least that government can do to protect workers that they expect to go out there every day and care for the public,” said Parsons.

Minnesota has such a law in place, but it’s set to expire May 1 unless it’s extended.

Firefighters in Massachusetts say they’re pushing for a similar law in that state because there are different guidelines for first responders when it comes to handling COVID cases.

“That is why we really need a statewide law protecting all firefighters. One firefighter in one area shouldn’t have different benefits from another firefighter in a different area of the state,” said Rich MacKinnon, union president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts.

Many lawmakers support the proposal, but it’s the cost that some worry about.

States and cities are already cutting back, and the added cost could be a deal-breaker for some states.