First responders, medical professionals across Texas worry about inadequate personal protective equipment supplies

Lake Travis Fire Rescue is one of hundreds of emergency service districts serving millions of Texas residents across the state. Firefighters, EMTs and medical professionals said they are concerned about the availability of personal protective equipment as the coronavirus public health crisis continues. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)
Lake Travis Fire Rescue is one of hundreds of emergency service districts serving millions of Texas residents across the state. Firefighters, EMTs and medical professionals said they are concerned about the availability of personal protective equipment as the coronavirus public health crisis continues. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)

Lake Travis Fire Rescue is one of hundreds of emergency service districts serving millions of Texas residents across the state. Firefighters, EMTs and medical professionals said they are concerned about the availability of personal protective equipment as the coronavirus public health crisis continues. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)

In hundreds of emergency service districts across the state, firefighters and emergency medical technicians ensure the safety of millions of Texans. But amidst a national and statewide shortage of personal protective equipment such as masks, goggles and gowns, Cliff Avery—the executive director of the Texas State Association of Fire and Emergency Districts, also known as SAFE-D—said first responders are worried about their ability to protect their communities into the future.

“Masks and gloves are important, but what’s really important is the people wearing those masks and gloves. If we lose a firefighter to quarantine or an EMT gets sick, we don’t have a vast supply of people to replace them,” Avery said.

On March 3, the World Health Organization warned of a “severe and mounting disruption” to PPE supplies, and last week, Texas Medical Association President David Fleeger called the shortage of PPE in Texas “unacceptable” in a statement.

“Physicians and the rest of the health care team cannot be thrown into battle poorly equipped. We cannot safely test, examine or treat our patients without protective masks, gowns, gloves and other equipment,” Fleeger said.

According to results of a survey SAFE-D conducted among its 251 emergency service districts, two-thirds of respondents were concerned about a lack of PPE, and half said an inability to procure enough PPE has already affected their service providers.


Avery said a Gonzales County ESD representative told him that the department had enough supplies to last four weeks, but as the coronavirus public health crisis drags on, the ability to keep adequate supplies will be tested.

“This is presenting a really big challenge. The prolonged nature of this crisis is making folks have to stretch out their supplies,” Avery said.

Community efforts

The Austin Disaster Relief Network is collecting protective supplies of everything from hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to gloves and water-resistant gowns at its headquarters and HOPE family thrift store, located at 1122 E. 51st St., Austin. Daniel Geraci, executive director of the ADRN, said the organization has already dropped off about six or seven truckloads of supplies, in collaboration with Austin Public Health, to health care workers in the area. Geraci said there is a continuing need in the city, especially for N95 masks.

“We’re excited about the way the community has stepped up whether it be grandmas or moms sewing face masks or big companies like the Facebooks of the world donating supplies,” he said.

The ADRN is accepting donations through April 6, but Geraci said that deadline could be extended based on need as the ADRN and the city evaluate the need “week by week.”

In the Houston area, the Sugar Land Skeeters, an independent professional baseball team, have converted their field to a drop-off point for PPE that will be donated to hospitals in the Memorial Hermann Health System. Supplies needed include alcohol and bleach wipes, face shields, N95 masks and surgical masks. Residents can make donations Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

The Lakeview Quilters Guild, an organization based out of Nassau Bay, is working on an effort to make fabric masks that can be donated to organizations in need. Jan Sweeney, a member of the organization, said the initial goal was to make 100 masks, and as of March 31, she and about 30 other workers have made nearly 400.

At the state level, Gov. Greg Abbott said March 24 that Texas would soon be receiving more than 1 million masks per week as part of an $83 million purchase order by the Supply Chain Strike Force, an organization he created to ensure organizations have the supplies and resources needed to protect citizens and respond to the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, according to Avery, emergency providers from ESDs around Texas will keep working to protect their communities.

"They’re prepared, but I don’t think anybody was quite prepared for this," he said.
By Jack Flagler
Jack is the editor of Community Impact Newspaper's Central Austin and Southwest Austin editions. He began his career as a sports reporter in Massachusetts and North Carolina before moving to Austin in 2018. He grew up in Maine and graduated from Boston University, but prefers tacos al pastor to lobster rolls. You can get in touch at jflagler@communityimpact.com


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