Alaskan firefighting personnel support national vaccination effort
Several Alaskan firefighting personnel including BLM Alaska Fire Service employees have stepped up to aid the effort to provide COVID-19 vaccinations across the nation.
Five AFS personnel and an emergency hire sponsored by BLM in Alaska are working in support of a mechanism that allows utilizing firefighting resources for a coordinated national response to emergencies. In this case, it is to support FEMA during a national and state COVID vaccination strategy initiated to get more people vaccinated. Multiple Incident Management Teams and hundreds of individuals from several federal agencies have been mobilized to assist across the country, virtually and in person. This support has allowed a total of approximately 480 federal, state, local and contract personnel to be assigned to help with the number growing each day.
BLM AFS’s Daniel Tanner and Charlie Pohlman are aviation fuelers, but are qualified as basic emergency medical technicians through in-house training provided at BLM AFS. They are seasonal workers and were on furlough when the call came out looking for EMTs to help with the national vaccination.
“If I’m in a position to offer help, I typically take it. I like to be able to help when it’s needed,” Tanner said. “It’s pretty exciting to be a part of this.”
“It’s great to branch out from our day jobs and find new ways to help our fellow humans,” Pohlman said. “It’s always an adventure, traveling across the country, meeting the incredible folks in our sister agencies, and learning new skills.”
They are working at a state and FEMA run vaccination clinic in Rochester, New York that opened on March 2. The site saw about 250 patients on the first day for a soft opening, before meeting the goal of 1,000 daily vaccinations by the second day.
“Much respect for our FEMA leadership on the ground here. They have pulled together this operation in a very short time and lost nothing in quality of service delivered,” Pohlman said.
Also working at the Rochester site is Ed Morgan, a recently retired Bureau of Indian Affairs Regional Forester. Morgan is working as a resource unit leader in support of EMTs like Pohlman and Tanner. The Juneau resident is considered a casual hire for the BLM in Alaska – he’s hired for assignments on an as-needed basis. He’s assisting with personnel check-ins at the site, putting together incident action plans, and facilitating demobilization of workers and their travel home.
“I took this assignment because there is a shortage of resources available and I wanted to be a part of the recovery process from the pandemic,” Morgan said.
About 76 miles to the west, BLM AFS Contracting Officer and qualified EMT Stacie Oaks is working in another FEMA vaccination site in Buffalo. She’s paired with a medic and said the pair is administering about 80 vaccines a day. Like the facility in Rochester, workers are doing about 1,000 vaccinations per day between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
“We are in an underserved and hard hit community,” Oaks said. “Folks are very happy and thankful we here and giving vaccines.”
As for her reason for taking time away from her busy job in Fairbanks: “I wanted to do my part.”
Also working 30-day assignments as EMTs at vaccination sites are BLM AFS Galena Zone Emergency Firefighter Crew Coordinator Matt Kilgriff, in Nashville, and Midnight Sun Hotshot Janson Marshall, in Texas.
More information on the FEMA vaccination support efforts can be found at https://www.fema.gov/disasters/coronavirus/vaccine-support
~Story by Beth Ipsen, BLM AFS public affairs specialist (firstname.lastname@example.org)