Fire chief outlines preparations for Ebola

Friday, October 24, 2014

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Should the Ebola virus come to Eureka Springs, emergency medical responders may be equipped to handle it -- or not.

Speaking to the Western Carroll County Ambulance Commission Tuesday, Eureka Springs Fire Chief Rhys Williams said that when he had heard about the first person in Dallas who contracted the virus, and the inadequate response by health care personnel there, resulting in dozens more people being exposed, it drew his attention.

"What took place in Dallas can pretty much happen anywhere," Williams said. "Everyone started pointing fingers and asking whose fault it was. This was an eye-opener."

He said personnel at the fire department are updating the protocols for handling this kind of disease.

Chairman Ken Mills noted that another current virus, Enterovirus D68, a rare respiratory virus that is infecting children across the U.S., could already be here. Williams agreed.

With regard to Ebola, he said, "If we suspect a patient with Ebola, we'll evaluate and treat it like a HazMat (hazardous materials) situation. If you get skin contact with [bodily] fluid, you could come down with it."

He said that just that day, the Centers for Disease Control chief made two separate announcements about what type of HazMat suit health workers need.

"We'll lean toward [getting] the HazMat B suit," he said.

According to the Santa Clara County, Calif., Fire Department, Level A suits are total containment protection against solids, liquids, gases and vapors, but Level B suits are not airtight, so they do not provide protection against gases and vapors.

Should a health worker treat an Ebola patient, the suit, uniforms and their equipment have to be decontaminated, Inspiration Point Fire Chief Ed Thompson said.

"Will Ebola come to our area?" Williams asked. "It's possible. We have a lot of people who travel or visit here from other areas. It could be here next week."

He said once the protocol is in place, his department will meet with all the district EMRs to go over it.

But that doesn't mean they will come to your house if you exhibit symptoms, even if it turns out you have only the flu, which has the same symptoms as initial-stage Ebola, he said.

"We may have to limit EMR contact with patients."

Thompson said in the Ebola case in Kansas City, "the ambulance crew was exposed to it and then responded to several more calls -- everyone who was exposed to it was sent home for 21 days."

Williams said Central Dispatch will be given a copy of the protocol once it is complete.

"They may have to ask people [calling in] with flu symptoms if they have been to West Africa," Thompson said.

In other business, Williams announced this was his last meeting, as he is retiring from his job at the end of November.

He has 30 years in fire and emergency services, two of them as a volunteer. He said he might be leaving the area.

"It's been a good ride, and I've enjoyed every minute of it," he said and added he will hold the EMR virus protocol meeting before he retires.

The board welcomed new member Sam Ward of Inspiration Point, who is replacing Jim Simmons. In his resignation letter, Simmons stated he must move from the area to attend to a family matter.

The board, with members Mark Minton and Marie Lee absent, approved Ward as vice chairman, which was Simmons' office. The board was to consider job descriptions for each of the officers, but will postpone it until the full board can meet.

Ambulance performance reports for August and September show a total of 113 calls, with 62 from Holiday Island, 14 from Inspiration Point, 13 from Highway 23 South, 10 from Highway 62 East, eight from Grassy Knob and two each from Highway 62 West, Rockhouse area, and Highway 23 North. Nine calls took more than 15 minutes to reach, with five in Holiday Island and four in Grassy Knob. Some refused transport, a couple were because of distance and those transported were without lights and sirens.

Sixteen of the total calls were "no treatment, no transport."

"A lot of times it's not the patient that calls," Williams said. "It's a family member or bystander."

The approved financial report shows a total of $290,347 in WCCAD coffers. Of $15,860 budgeted for EMR expenses for the year, $13,427.50 has been spent.

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