Hudson County Fire Departments are asking for more transparency regarding the instances of COVID-19 within their jurisdiction.
In a letter to New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, Hudson County Fire Coordinator & Kearny Police Chief Steven Dyl expresses his desire for greater access to information to help mitigate concerns for first responder safety.
“Throughout the day we hear praise for the first responders and how the pandemic is being handled. The accolades are well deserved and appreciated. There is one vital piece of protective equipment missing from our first responders,” says Dyl. “The protection desperately needed is to provide notification to our Fire and EMS providers for confirmed, persons under investigation or suspect cases, similar to the process of notification to Police about COVID-19 cases.”
As it stands, that information is shared only between the Department of Health and local law enforcement. Legal concerns over patient privacy require strict adherence to protocols. However, against the backdrop of an ever-evolving risk scenario such as the COVID-19 outbreak, information is key for safety. Under the current protocol, Fire Departments are required to get the information from law enforcement prior to responding to calls.
“Currently, Hudson County Fire Departments and EMS agencies are missing this information despite responding to medical calls every day,” said Hoboken Fire Chief Brian Crimmins, in his own letter to the State. “We can confidentially enter this information into our computer aided dispatch (CAD) systems and use it to ensure proper levels of our PPE on emergency calls.”
Crimmins adds, “this is a request to protect my firefighters and fire officers, some of whom have already been self-isolated, quarantined, and tested for COVID-19.”
After reaching out to Hoboken City Hall for clarification, spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri told hMAG, “The New Jersey Attorney General’s office in conjunction with the New Jersey Department of Health have mandated that COVID-19 patient information be provided to Hoboken law enforcement personnel by the Hudson County Office of Emergency Management, not the City of Hoboken. The City understands that Hudson County is following this legal guidance as required by the Office of the Attorney General. Any further questions or concerns should be directed to the Attorney General’s office.”
A spokesperson for the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office also told hMAG that this was a State issue and that we should contact the Attorney General for clarification.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued an amended directive on March 27, stating:
Unless otherwise provided by an authorized public health agency, all other state, county, and municipal law enforcement officers may only be informed that a particular individual has tested positive for COVID-19 through the CAD system, and they may not disseminate that information further, except that they may share this information with other individuals authorized to receive it by the Department of Health, including emergency medical services (EMS), emergency medical technicians (EMT), firefighters, and the Department of Children and Families, Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP).
We believe that NJ Revised statutes Section 26:13-17 (a) and (b) permits such notification especially during a pandemic. Currently, Hudson County Fire Departments and EMS agencies are missing this information despite responding to medical calls every day,” said Chief Dyl. “This policy should be adopted for all Fire and EMS agencies throughout the State of New Jersey.