Letter to the Editor

Covid19 Stipends for First Responders -  5-20-20

I just watched part of Monday night's, May 11, Selectmen's meeting and came away shaking my head. Among the topics they discussed was submitting for the federal funding of COVID19 stipends for the town's first responders. As a resident of Hampstead and a first responder, wife and mother of first responders on the Hampstead Fire Department for the past 30 years, I listened to Joe Guthrie question why our fire, police and EMS personnel deserved compensation for the additional risks they are facing during the pandemic. He seems to feel that only the Trinity Ambulance personnel contracted by the town face exposure risks during medical calls. The 911 dispatchers do screen callers for COVID19 symptoms and include that in the information shared with responders. Best practices dictate we limit the number of people who enter a residence and have patient contact if COVID19 symptoms are reported. This is both good health practice, and good business: if our responders have a possible exposure, they must quarantine, unable to fill their shifts OR be with their family.

However, as both a selectman and a state representative, Guthrie should understand two important points. First, we know that the virus that causes COVID19 can be spread before/without a person having symptoms. So patients that aren't flagged as possibly infectious, may in fact be contagious. Second, our responders face contact with the public, and therefore possible exposure, on every alarm activation, every service call, every car accident, every traffic stop, virtually every time they leave the station, with or without Trinity.

Guthrie expressed concern that the other municipal employees deserved compensation as well. I respect the work our Town Hall employees do, and there may be some risk they face in retrieving materials from the drop box at Town Hall, as the building is currently closed to the public. But my husband and daughter come home from a shift at the fire station and strip, putting their clothing directly into the washer then taking a shower before interacting with us. If we three go out on an all-call, like a motor vehicle accident or structure fire, we are acutely aware of any contact we have and the possible exposure we bring home to my other daughter. We accept this consequence of our commitment to serving the town. Having that commitment questioned by someone who should be well informed on the risks we face is insulting, at a time when morale is already low and the stress of all our work and home lives is escalated. It is difficult enough to attract and retain qualified personnel without an attitude from a selectman/representative that devalues our work.

I spend my days working at the NH Fire Academy, updating Department of Safety personnel on the evolving information around the pandemic. It is a delicate balance between what we know, and what we don't know. The federal government has made funding available to compensate front line responders for the additional risk they face during the pandemic and Governor Sununu is eager to distribute it. We all hear the stories of huge corporations getting billions in relief, then laying off employees. It boggles the mind that a local official and state representative would question some small portion of that relief money coming to local responders, who are likely to spend it in our stores, our restaurants, our businesses. Our first responders accept the same heightened dangers as responders across the country, yet we don’t deserve the same gesture of recognition?

Laurie Warnock
20 Redcoat Dr
Hampstead NH 03841

"Everyone knows what you're against; show them what you're for." A. Gibson































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