PHOENIX — Phoenix Fire Chief Kara Kalkbrenner says emergency protective gear such as gowns and N95 masks ordered by the Phoenix Fire Department are getting “hijacked” before they ever arrive in Arizona.
Kalkbrenner’s comments came Tuesday after 12 News asked her about a photo posted on Facebook showing two Phoenix firefighters responding to a recent emergency wearing rain ponchos instead of protective gowns. First responders are advised to cover their uniforms while helping the public to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
“We have ordered millions of dollars of personal protective equipment that keeps getting hijacked before getting to the City of Phoenix,” Kalkbrenner said.
For now, Phoenix firefighters have sufficient masks, gloves and protective glasses but do not have protective gowns, Kalkbrenner said.
The department consulted with The International Association of Fire Chiefs, the CDC and the local health officials. All of them assured department leaders that disposable ponchos are a reliable substitute, Kalkbrenner said.
“What we needed was a barrier,” Kalkbrenner said. “In light of not having something, this is the best thing we could do.”
On Tuesday, 12 News showed the Facebook photo to Senator Martha McSally, who said she could not comment on the specific image because she did not know its origins.
“I think we can all agree that our front-line healthcare heroes and our first responders need the protective gear to keep themselves safe,” McSally said.
McSally said one reason there is a national shortage of PPEs is that they are manufactured by companies overseas.
"We need these things made in America and available in America for a time such as this. So we’re taking notes and we’ll be taking action moving forward to bring that production capability moving home,” McSally said.
When asked more specifically about the PPE shortage at the Phoenix Fire Department, Kalkbrenner said the normal supply chain is being disrupted.
“Some of them (protective gowns) were supposed to come off the coast of California, through San Francisco,” Kalkbrenner said. “We had an order of 2 million pieces of N95 masks. They never made it to Arizona. Either the feds are hijacking them. It’s not the state. They’re not getting them either.”