Testimony of Chief
Kevin A. Gallagher, Acushnet Fire / Rescue Department
To the Public Safety
and Security Community Meeting, Brockton, Massachusetts
December 11, 2006
Mr. Chairman, ladies and
gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity to bring the issues of
importance to those of us in the field of public safety to the
attention of the incoming administration of Governor-Elect Deval
Mr. Chairman, the town of
Acushnet, the city of Brockton, the island of Nantucket and
every one of the 351 communities in the Commonwealth as well as
every state in the nation is confronting the very real
possibility of pandemic influenza. The H5N1
virus that has infected humans in ten countries is slowing
shifting to the point of becoming a clear and present danger.
I am by profession a Fire
Chief. My primary responsibility is to
extinguish fires that occur in my community.
Inherent in my job description – and a responsibility every fire
chief in the Commonwealth takes very seriously – is the safety
and well-being of the men and women under our command.
The issue of a pandemic influenza is obviously a public
health concern, but the reality is that those who will be called
to render care to the ill as well as confront the virus while
carrying out their daily functions are the Commonwealth’s public
safety first responders.
How serious is this threat?
Last summer the United States Secretary of Health and
Human Services traveled the nation informing state leaders not
to look toward the federal government to save the day.
Some argued that the administration was attempting to
lower expectations of federal involvement in this crisis given
their abysmal response to Hurricane Katrina.
Others stated that the breadth and scope of a pandemic would be
too large for the federal government to address.
Fair enough. We thank them for their
honesty and accept the challenge of developing state, regional
and local plans to effectively respond to the challenges of
And what will those
The Massachusetts Department
of Public Health projects that of the 6.4 million citizens of
the Commonwealth, 2 million of our citizens will become ill with
the influenza, an attack rate of 30%. DPH
further projects that 80,000 residents will be hospitalized with
flu related illnesses and that 20,000 will die within the first
wave of the pandemic.
That figure represents
influenza deaths that are twice the number of residents in the
community I serve.
Finally, DPH further projects
that a pandemic will result in a workplace absentee rate of up
to 40%. That means up to 40% of the people
who pump our gas, sell our food and build our homes will not be
at work during the peak of the pandemic.
That also means up to 40% less police officers, firefighters,
EMT’s, corrections officers and every other job title under the
banner of public safety.
So, at a time when we at the
local level can anticipate an unprecedented number of calls for
treatment and transport due to the large number of sick
residents in each of our communities, our public safety services
will be understaffed in addition to being overwhelmed.
To its credit, the
Commonwealth’s Department of Public Health has taken the lead in
certain areas. By DPH directive each
community in the Commonwealth is required to identify a site and
develop a plan to open an Emergency Dispensing Site commonly
referred to as an EDS. An EDS would be
opened to provide medication to local citizens in response to
local health emergencies such as a biological incident or to
vaccinate its population during a smallpox outbreak.
Each community is required to have a plan ready to
distribute medication to their entire population on 24 hours
notice and complete this daunting task within seventy-two hours.
The number of EDS locations is determined by the
community’s population, so while my town is required to have one
site our neighbors in New Bedford are required to operate nine
sites. Many communities are beginning to
exercise their EDS plans. I recently
participated in an annual flu clinic held in New Bedford at the
site of one of their EDS locations. This
clinic operated according to state EDS guidelines and in real
time. The lessons learned were many, the
Anticipating a surge in
residents seeking medical assistance during a pandemic, DPH has
asked the state’s acute care hospitals to develop plans to
operate Influenza Specialty Care Units – or ISCU’s --
at locations separate from the main
hospital. The plan is to treat all non
critical influenza patients at one licensed satellite location
while the main facility handles those who are in critical
condition as well as the other medical needs hospitals face on a
daily basis. The ISCU’s would operate under
the direction and control of the main hospital but – as we were
told by our local acute care facility – will depend on a very
large number of volunteers and support staff.
DPH has also conducted an
inventory of all appropriate hospital space that could be used
during such a large scale crisis. Based on
that study it has been determined that the southeast portion of
the state (Emergency Preparedness Region 5) has approximately
1,000 less beds then the expected need. The
solution will be to transport our excessive patients to other
regions with available bed space. Keep in
mind that we would be doing this important task with up to 40%
less staff at a time when our 911 system is bogged down with
local residents requesting treatment or transport.
Realizing that a pandemic
could quickly overwhelm an individual municipality’s ability to
respond, eight communities in Southeastern Massachusetts – along
with the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth – have formed
an organization we call the Southcoast Emergency Planning
Partnership (SEPP). Municipal leaders from
public health, public safety, the executive level of government
and school administrators comprise our membership.
In addition we have reached out for the participation of
the local faith based community, the local Chamber of Commerce
and other civic groups and organizations. We
have met monthly since April to discuss pandemic planning and
have been successful in creating the Greater New Bedford Medical
Reserve Corps – the entity we hope will begin to address the
need for a pool of qualified, pre-credentialed and trained
In addition, we have joined
the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts in requesting a
change in policy relative to the distribution of influenza
vaccine by classifying all public safety personnel in the top
tier along with their EMT counterparts. We
have received a response indicating that DPH is actively
considering our request and we will continue to monitor this in
order to insure that the policy is changed prior to a crisis
That, Mr. Chairman, is the
focus of my testimony. If I were to inform
you that your house is guaranteed to burn – we just weren’t sure
when -- or that your car would absolutely be stolen – but we
couldn’t tell you the day, month or year -- I trust that you
would take the necessary actions to prevent these events from
happening. While we are not able to prevent
a pandemic from hitting our state we can take the steps
necessary to prepare now.
In the fall of 1918, this
country and the world were devastated by the Spanish Flu.
Approximately 20-40 million people died worldwide with
500,000 deaths in the United States. Local
history tells us that The Mayor of New Bedford was completely
unaware of the crisis until he received a call from the Mayor of
Brockton requesting doctors, nurses and beds.
Within a few days the flu traveled south to New Bedford
and resulted in over 1,400 deaths, including a member of my
By comparison, today you can
log onto the World Health Organization’s website and follow the
course of the H5N1 virus on a daily basis.
Prominent health officials warn that once this virus makes the
final step to being easily transmitted from person to person it
will be in our communities within three months.
That final step may occur next week, next month or next
year. It is important that we ramp up our
preparedness for this crisis now.
My concern is for all our
residents who will be made ill and possibly die due to this
virus. My primary concern today is for the
first responders who will once again be on the front lines of an
emergency. There is much to do:
we need to begin a
coordinated training program for those public safety
personnel who will enter the homes and transport the sick
we need to stockpile the
masks necessary for respiratory protection that is
recommended by OSHA and insure easy access to those masks by
our public safety employees
we need to move forward
on reworking regulations necessary for EMT’s and Paramedics
to work outside their scope of practice during pandemic
we need for the state to
begin the process of purchasing the equipment and supplies
necessary for hospitals to implement the state required
plan of operating ISCU’s
we need increased and
sustained funding for local Medical Reserve Corps so that
communities can build a pool of trained volunteers necessary
to operate the state required Emergency Dispensing
Sites and Influenza Specialty Care Units.
We need to address the
issues of liability that often proves to be an impediment
for health care professionals to volunteer their services at
the local level
And most importantly – in my
opinion – we need executive level leadership on this most
A few weeks ago the
Southcoast Emergency Planning Partnership hosted a meeting with
our local state legislative delegation.
After discussing with them the issues just raised, I asked our
State Senator how important an issue pandemic planning was
during the current legislative session. We
were stunned to learn that the first person to mention the issue
to him was a member of our group a few weeks earlier.
There had been no legislative briefing by the Department
of Public health to which he had been invited.
There had been no telephone calls from appropriate
administration staff explaining pandemic funding requests.
Most importantly, there had been no contact by the
Governor indicating that pandemic planning and response was a
Each passing day brings us
closer to what the experts predict will be a worldwide crisis.
While the public may become exhausted by yet another doom
and gloom scenario, we can ill afford for the state to do the
I respectfully request that
this group advise the incoming Governor of the very real work
being done at the local level and the very real need for
leadership at the executive level of our state government.
Thank you for your time.