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Mountain West Lawmakers Push For Wildland Firefighter Protections

An image of a firefighter standing outside of a truck, spraying water, and wearing a facemask.
Bureau of Land Management

How are wildland firefighters expected to battle blazes during a pandemic? That's not entirely clear, but a bipartisan bill proposed by Mountain West lawmakers aims to help ensure firefighters' safety.

Last week, Colorado's Joe Neguse, a Democrat, and Utah's John Curtis, a Republican, introduced the Wildfire and Community Health Response Act of 2020, which they said is intended to support the health of firefighters and emergency responders and mitigate the impact of wildfires on nearby communities during the pandemic.

“Over half of Colorado’s second congressional district consists of public lands, and with wildfire season approaching it is vital that Congress ensures a safe and supportive working environment to mitigate wildfires and protect the respiratory health of our neighbors," Neguse said in a statement.

The bill would require reports from the Departments of Agriculture and Interior about efforts to address COVID-19. The reports would outline actions taken by the departments to prevent the spread of the virus, protect the respiratory health of local communities, and guard against future wildfire. They would also provide recommendations on what federal support would be needed.

"New research suggests that the smoke firefighters breathe on the front lines of wildfires is putting them at greater risk from the new coronavirus, with potentially lethal effects," Boise State University Environmental Toxicologist Luke Montrose recently wrote. "At the same time, firefighting conditions make precautions such as social distancing and hand-washing difficult, increasing the chance that, once the virus enters a fire camp, it could quickly spread."

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Do you have questions about COVID-19? How has this crisis affected you? Our reporters would love to hear from you. You can submit your question or share your story here.

Noah Glick is a former content director and host at KUNR Public Radio.
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