May 28, 2020

CDC Publishes FAQs for Wildland Firefighters Working During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A new webpage published by CDC answers eight frequently asked questions related to preventing or limiting the spread of COVID-19 among firefighters working to control fires in wilderness areas. The FAQ page provides advice on avoiding infection and isolating infected personnel amid the unique, often close-knit conditions in which wildland firefighters work.

The eight questions answered in this document are:

  1. What steps can be taken by wildland personnel to prevent infection and spread of COVID-19, and how can a crew isolate as a unit?
  2. How do fire personnel prevent infection while travelling to and from different geographic locations, and living in shared spaces?
  3. Should wildfire management agencies screen personnel for signs and symptoms of COVID-19?
  4. Are first responders, including firefighters, prioritized for COVID-19 testing?
  5. What actions can wildland firefighters take to prevent infection and protect communities while travelling?
  6. What precautions should firefighters take when coming off assignment and returning to their families?
  7. What are CDC’s recommendations for firefighters who have been in close contact with someone with known or suspected COVID-19?
  8. What precautions should be implemented for protecting firefighters at fire camps?

Answers to these FAQs discuss guidance on how to balance the need for social-distancing measures with the fact that wildland firefighters need to travel, interact with local communities, maintain their equipment, and share living spaces in order to provide a critical service. CDC advises wildfire management agencies to develop and implement protocols to prevent virus spread, such as using technology to safely accomplish tasks while social distancing, and to prioritize firefighters’ health, hydration, nutrition, and rest as much as possible.

When personnel arrive to their duty stations, CDC recommends that management provide them with the means to socially distance themselves and limit all interactions with the rest of the crew for 14 days, if possible. After the 14-day period, crews may isolate together as groups. In their shared living spaces, CDC advises that personnel avoid using bunk beds and sleep head to toe relative to each other, among other measures to improve ventilation and keep the spaces clean.

Although firefighting personnel will be prioritized for COVID-19 testing as soon as it becomes widely available, they are still encouraged to self-monitor for symptoms and not to work if any arise. The full document contains additional information relevant to firefighters’ circumstances in these unique times.