Milford says FEMA took personal protective equipment meant for town, feds respond

MILFORD, Mass. — A large shipment of valuable personal protective equipment [PPE] earmarked for Milford’s first responders was intercepted by the federal government, according to the town’s fire chief.

“We got word that the government had stepped in and probably took possession of a lot of stuff, not just that 30,000,” said Milford Fire Chief William Touhey Jr. in an interview Saturday.

Chief Touhey said the original order was for gowns worn by nurses as most of the materials would have gone to Milford Regional Medical Center.

“This past week, next door, we had the nurses set up under a tent for three days,” Chief Touhey explained. “[They were] holding up cardboard signs asking for donations of anything: ponchos, gloves and kind of things that they could use in a medical setting.”

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Chief Touhey says the goods were apparently taken by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. A spokesperson for the agency provided the following statement.

“FEMA and CBP are working together to prevent domestic brokers, distributors, and other intermediaries from diverting critical medical resources overseas. PPE being distributed internally within the United States is not being seized or re-routed by FEMA. Reports of FEMA commandeering or re-routing such supplies are false.

If a hospital believes this has happened to them, it should be reported to the governor. If a governor believes that this has happened to their supplies, it should be reported to the FEMA Region. If a company decides to cancel on a state contract in favor of federal one, FEMA will work with the company and the state to resolve the matter in a way that best serves their people.”

Boston 25 News brought Milford’s concerns to Governor Charlie Baker who spoke at a news conference in Somerville on Saturday afternoon.

“There are many folks in the public sector that over the course of the last several weeks have had their orders disappear,” Gov. Baker stated. “We’ll follow-up with Milford and see what the story is.”

The Town of Milford intends to continue pursuing PPE and said, after going public with the story in the Milford Daily News, that they were contacted by one federal agency, a national business and others looking to sell PPE to the town.

But more is needed, Touhey said.

“I'll take them from wherever I can get them at this point,” he said.

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FEMA also sent an additional statement to Boston 25 News regarding the situation with the Town of Milford:

“The Project Airbridge is a partnership between FEMA and companies wherein we decrease the time that it takes to get supplies to the United States from overseas by paying to transport goods by plane instead of the normal shipping routes.

In exchange, the companies are obligated to sell a predetermined percentage of their cargo to areas that HHS and FEMA identified as hot spots. This agreement may be misconstrued as FEMA “commandeering” supplies from the company or their customers.

FEMA has not asked the companies to cancel their existing supply agreements. The project Airbridge partnership is crucial to get supplies to the United States that would not be in the country otherwise or that would arrive too late. With this program, more supplies are getting into the country and – most importantly - into the hands of our frontline medical staff that need them most, in the areas with the greatest identified need to save lives.”