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They usually respond to disasters. Now, Idaho is calling them to help with COVID-19


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BOISE — Following the lead of another Western state, Idaho plans to request more federal help with its vaccine rollout.

Who will provide that help? It may be none other than the Boise-based teams that have mobilized to help fight wildfires throughout Idaho and the West. Already this month, those teams have been using what they’ve learned from years of fighting actual wildfires to help Washington State try to extinguish the fast-spreading blaze of COVID-19.

“The Idaho Office of Emergency Management and the Department of Health and Welfare are in the process of requesting an incident management team from FEMA to assist with vaccinations in Idaho,” Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said Tuesday. “This incident management team will support the public health districts, and they are finalizing the exact mission. This request cannot be made without an emergency declaration.”

The state has not yet submitted that request to FEMA, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

“The Idaho Office of Emergency Management will submit it when it’s ready,” IDHW Public Information Manager Niki Forbing-Orr said in an email Wednesday. “The public health districts are still finalizing the mission.”

The state of Washington this month received help with large-scale vaccination clinics, according to Jessica Gardetto, chief of external affairs for BLM National Fire and Aviation, at the Boise-based National Interagency Fire Center.

Washington requested help via FEMA for a U.S. Forest Service incident management team to help with state and local COVID-19 response in three southwest Washington counties — Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania. Clark County includes Vancouver, Washington, which borders Portland, Oregon.

A total of 32 people were assigned to a team, with 29 people on the ground to help with strategic planning, so that public health and health care workers could get vaccines in arms. The team was a mix of federal, state and local staff.

The incident management team mobilized Jan. 19, going to Cowlitz County to help with “command, control and coordination” to help support the vaccine response to the coronavirus public health emergency, Gardetto said.

The Statesman last week asked Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s spokespeople whether he had requested similar assistance through FEMA.

Press Secretary Marissa Morrison Hyer said that Idaho has been receiving FEMA assistance with vaccines. “For example, the increase in guardsmen our office announced this week is an example of vaccine distribution assistance facilitated through FEMA support,” she said in an email.

She did not respond to a follow-up question about whether the governor had requested incident management teams to help with large-scale vaccine clinics or other rollout efforts.