Hazmat Refresher Course Prepares Firefighters for Ebola

After completing a refresher course on handling Hazardous Materials (Hazmat training) with a component addressing the Ebola outbreak, Battalion Chief Jim Roger said Londonderry firefighters are prepared to care for infected patients and contain contagion.

“We’re hopeful it won’t be needed, but we don’t want to be caught unprepared,” Roger said of the eight-hour training sessions held last week, which included a classroom component where firefighters learned the right questions to ask when screening patients for the Ebola Virus, and drills where firefighters practiced suiting up in their Hazmat gear and proper methods for decontaminating.

Londonderry fire personnel – including battalion chiefs, lieutenants, paramedics and firefighters – complete the Hazmat refresher annually, covering a variety of situations where they may come into contact with hazardous materials. Training, which covers illicit drug laboratories, weapons of mass destruction, and transporting hazardous materials in industrial areas, also frequently addresses concerns of particular interest at the time the refresher is conducted.

This year’s training just happened to coincide with the Ebola outbreak, which offered a valuable opportunity for the department to focus in on what their response to such a call would entail.

For example, in one scenario, firefighters learned they had blood on their suit that was possibly contaminated with Ebola. They were then instructed to decontaminate and remove their suits properly to prevent the spread of contagion, using decontamination kits the Fire Department purchased in response to the crisis.

Firefighters were also instructed to protect respiratory systems by placing a mask over the face of any patient who may be suffering symptoms of Ebola – fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and lack of appetite, and in some cases, bleeding.

The decontamination kits and disposable suits, which cost about $1,000, will ensure the department is ready to address a situation where Ebola is suspected to be present, such as an airplane that lands and appears to be carrying infected patients.

Every ambulance in Londonderry is equipped with Hazmat gear, and Rescue 1 carries Hazmat suits and decontamination equipment. Rescue 1 would be deployed to scenes where there is a heightened sense of danger, such as a plane where several passengers screened show signs of being infected with the Ebola Virus.

“I ordered the extra equipment fearing if the Ebola crisis gets worse and we didn’t get the equipment quickly we may not get it,” said Roger, who has served as Hazmat Team Leader for about 16 years.

In an effort to ensure an effective response in a situation where there is concern a passenger is infected with Ebola, Roger said the Manchester Airport Fire Chief “has been communicating and cooperating with myself, Fire Chief (Darren O’Brien) and Town Manager Kevin Smith to work out a plan.

Fire personnel responded to the Manchester Airport earlier this month after learning an airplane passenger was experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Roger said the incident was handled well and responders placed a mask over the man’s face and transported him to the hospital for a screening, by which it was determined he was experiencing gastrointestinal problems unrelated to the Ebola Virus.

“By doing these classes already every year, we found we’re already ahead of the curve,” said Roger, noting this year’s Ebola-focused training “made our firefighters feel more prepared and well protected.”

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