Firefighter PPE is key to disease control

There's no reason to freak out about Ebola and other deadly diseases, but there is every reason to take all the precautions available


It seems there is always the next big killer lurking right around the corner. Ebola has been hitting the news like a major hurricane hitting Tampa Bay.

Remember that Ebola is really not new, rather it has always been one of the deadly diseases discussed in infection-control programs. Some of you may remember it as hemorrhagic fever.

There will always be an infectious disease that claims many lives and creates hysteria among humankind.

Don't worry, I am not going to get into the Ebola outbreak — look to the Center for Disease Control for the latest on how to deal with Ebola — but I am going to discuss infectious disease in general.

Parachute pants and bloody hands
When we perform rehab we should practice safety precautions regardless of who the person is we are tending. In the 1980s I remember working on patients and having blood on me, my uniform and sometimes anywhere you can imagine.

It was like royalty to see who had the most blood on them by the end of the call — in many cases it was for bragging rights. A few times I had recycled food from doing mouth-to-mouth. Not always the best tasting, but we would spit it out and keep on going.

Those days are gone. We now wear gloves, almost to the extreme, and no longer perform mouth-to-mouth. Hepatitis and HIV/AIDS were the biggest influence on taking universal precautions and body-substance isolation to the level we see today.

Ebola is taking it to the next level with full PPE and no openings or skin showing. It is the hazmat call of EMS. We know that by using proper PPE we are protecting ourselves from potential contamination. So often, though, we fail to appreciate the threat in things we don't see and become lax in our protection.

The latest outbreak of Ebola should remind us just how many deadly things are out there. It should remind us that we need to ask appropriate questions and take appropriate actions to protect ourselves.

Responsible party
There is only one person that will in all cases look out for you, and that is you. You must take appropriate precautions on whatever you do and in whatever circumstance you are involved with at the time.

If you are dealing with infectious disease or the potential of infectious disease, wear the proper PPE. Dealing with a patient who you know is infectious is not the only time to consider this. If you are working rehab, you are surrounded by potential contaminates.

Other personnel may be combating some illness. There is contaminates from the incident that are on personnel, PPE, and in the air. Many of these contaminants we know are potentially carcinogenic.

We should be taking the appropriate precautions in rehab. So often, once the fire is out, we believe contaminates are gone and are no longer a threat.

We couldn't be more wrong. Air quality after the fire is out has some of the highest readings and appropriate PPE must be worn in all areas until we can determine that the air is clear through proper air monitoring.

Healthy respect
Ebola is not something you should worry about, but rather something you should respect by taking the proper precautions including the proper PPE. It is also a way to remind us that we deal with hazardous environments on a regular basis that can be as deadly.

In this regards we need to take the appropriate precautions including wearing the proper PPE. There is no excuse. Proper PPE is our safeguard to our future and our health.

Take some time and review the use of PPE. Have personnel don and doff PPE properly. Make it into a contest and see how many properly don and doff their PPE.

It may be surprising how complacent personnel have become using their PPE. Take that extra step and be cautious out there. Once you contract a deadly disease it may be too late.  

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