COVID-19 tests provided for more than 250 Colorado wildland firefighters

East Canyon Fire_June 14, 2020
Posted at 11:09 AM, Jul 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-02 13:09:29-04

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — More than 250 first responders working wildland fires in southern Colorado are being tested for COVID-19, the Colorado National Guard announced on Friday.

Gov. Jared Polis ordered the National Guard to provide tests for the firefighters in an effort to keep first responders safe as they battled fires in the Cortez and Pagosa Springs area in late June.

"It's important to ensure that we identify and contain any potential outbreaks especially among essential first responders and incident command staff in fire camps as we move toward what could be a busy fire season," U.S. Army Capt. Brian Doble, a task force test support commander, said in a news release.

The test results were not yet available Thursday. The task force has three mobile testing teams that can respond to sites across Colorado.

Officials were bracing for COVID-19's impact on firefighting, as crews work to maintain social distancing.

Vaughn Jones, wildland section chief for the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, said in May that at some point, groups of responders will likely be in close proximity and that while they will socially distance themselves as best they can, it may not always be feasible. To prepare for that, the DFPC was developing incident-within-an-incident contingency plans on how to treat anybody who becomes sick, how to limit the spread and if the person or people should go into quarantine.

On May 21, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed Executive Order D 2020 072, which transferred some funds from the state’s Disaster Emergency Fund to the Wildfire Emergency Response Fund. This was done to fund firefighting operations and additional wildfire aviation resources.

Before Polis signed the order, the balance in the Wildfire Emergency Response Fund was $152,253. Based on the projected operational needs, the DFPC estimated that the fund would need an additional $763,000 to ensure the state can successfully respond to fires amid COVID-19. Polis’s order directed that $763,000 move from the Disaster Emergency Fund to the Wildfire Emergency Response Fund. Those funds will assist fire officials with early detection and a rapid initial attack, according to the order.