More than 70 MA firefighters test positive for COVID, want benefits legislation passed

BOSTON (WHDH) - As of Friday afternoon, 71 members of the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts have tested positive for COVID 19. Almost 600 are currently in quarantine while more than 650 have been tested and more than 1,400 have documented exposure to the coronavirus.

The head of the union says members are fighting a global pandemic with lunch bags and recycling.

“Due to the lack of PPE, and N95 masks, our members are being asked to wear N95s on multiple calls, multiple responses,” says Rich MacKinnon. “And even in my own department, I believe, up until today, when I went into work the other night, I received an N95 mask in a brown bag that I have to use multiple times when responding to incidents.”

RELATED: President of firefighters’ union calling for more protective gear as 5 test positive for COVID-19

He says 79 departments across the state responded to a union survey saying they are reusing N95 masks. Some others are only using surgical masks.

“Obviously we want to protect our firefighters, our first responders and the people that we respond to. If we’re exposed and are carrying the virus, the last thing we want to do is respond to an incident and give it to innocent bystanders,” says MacKinnon.

He says about 6,000 first responders have had to change the way they respond to calls.

MacKinnon says they aren’t blaming anyone, they know it’s a national crisis.

“We work closely with nurses, and in no way are we advocating that you know N95 masks and PPE be taken from them, we’re all in this together,” says MacKinnon.

But they are hoping to get more PPE.

MacKinnon says there is legislation currently going through Beacon Hill that would allow firefighters to receive workers compensation-like benefits and medical care, if they become sick from COVIS 19 while on the job. He’s asking state lawmakers to do the right thing.

“We’re willing to respond quite frankly with a lack of PPE, we’re still going to respond, there’s nothing that will stop that, but we need protections for our firefighters that get sick,” says MacKinnon.

(Copyright (c) 2020 Sunbeam Television. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)