CORONAVIRUS

Eastern Iowa legislator, firefighters: Treat coronavirus as a line-of-duty disease

Iowa City fire trucks. (file photo)
Iowa City fire trucks. (file photo)

An Eastern Iowa lawmaker and firefighters are asking that first responders with COVID-19 be presumed to have contracted the coronavirus while on the job and that time off, medical care and recovery associated with the respiratory illness be treated as a line-of-duty injury.

At present, there is no consistency in how COVID-19 is being handled, with some cities treating it as a presumed work illness, while others don’t.

State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, won House passage of a bill, House File 2592, to expand benefits under the Municipal Fire and Police Retirement System to make lung and respiratory illnesses a presumed line-of-work condition. However, the bill did not get to the Senate floor before the Iowa Legislature suspended its session in mid-March.

So Kaufmann is asking Gov. Kim Reynolds to issue guidance to all cities to treat COVID-19 among police, firefighters and other first responders as a work-related injury or disease.

Kaufmann said he thinks first responders who must be quarantined, isolated or removed from public safety service because they have been exposed to or contracted COVID-19 should be “afforded the protections of a line-of-duty injury.”

“These men and women are on the front lines taking care of us, and they are having to use sick leave or pay for their own treatments,” he said.

The governor’s office declined to comment on Kaufmann’s request.

Among the cities participating in the Municipal Fire and Police Retirement System are Bettendorf, Camanche, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Charles City, Clinton, Davenport, Decorah, Des Moines, DeWitt, Dubuque, Evansdale, Fairfield, Grinnell, Iowa City, Marion, Mason City, Muscatine, Oelwein, Sioux City, Storm Lake, Waterloo and Waverly.

According to information provided to Kaufmann by the Iowa Professional Fire Fighters, nine police officers in Sioux City and three in Marshalltown have tested positive for COVID-19. At least one Waterloo firefighter and one Cedar Rapids police officer have tested positive.

Iowa City IPFF Local 610 President Brandon Pflanzer said the union has been advised there is language in the Iowa Code that could give Reynolds authority to treat COVID-19 as a presumed workplace illness.

“Or at a very minimum, proclaim it and issue guidance to cities that would allow for them to take her lead on it,” Pflanzer said Thursday.

The union also has asked for the Iowa League of Cities to provide direction to its member cities. The league did not reply to a request for comment Thursday.

While first responders take precautions, including using personal protective equipment, washing clothing after every call and limiting voluntary interactions, Pflanzer said the core function of their jobs is to help people, “and we don’t see people on their best day.”

“We all know what we signed up for,” Pflanzer said about firefighters. “But it’s that risk that I bring it home to my family that weighs on a lot of our members’ minds.”

Firefighters, police officers and EMS providers need elected officials “to do right by them” and acknowledge that COVID-19 is a workplace hazard, said IPFF President Doug Neys.

“The public counts on us to show up and do our job, no matter what, when, or where,” Neys said. “We need the support of our elected officials to have our backs during this time of crisis. We are asking the governor to protect them with presumptive protections.”

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Kaufmann plans to seek Senate passage of HF 2592 when the Legislature resumes its session, perhaps in May.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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