When the 9-1-1 call came in about a woman exhibiting Ebola-like symptoms in the parking lot of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, the Arlington Local 2800 fire fighters were fully prepared to respond.
Local 2800 President Robert Beer attributes the proactive and aggressive response to the professionalism of the fire fighters and a series of Ebola training webinars in the days leading to the incident.
Ultimately, it was determined that the woman did not have Ebola following a tense and busy public safety response involving not just Local 2800 members, but also an Arlington County HazMat team, Pentagon police and area hospitals.
Beer says the emergency call that came in the morning of October 18 described a woman with abdominal pain. When paramedics arrived at her location near a security barrier at the Pentagon parking lot, she was vomiting after getting off of a Pentagon shuttle bus.
The paramedics, well-briefed on Ebola response tactics, asked her a series of questions designed to zero in on the possibility of Ebola. The woman answered each of the questions in the affirmative, at which point the paramedics initiated proper Ebola response protocols.
Keeping a distance from the patient, fire fighters called Dr. E. Reed Smith, Operational Medical Director for the Arlington County Fire Department. Smith immediately alerted an area hospital that a patient exhibiting Ebola symptoms would soon be arriving. Paramedics and HazMat personnel donned full PPE, masks and gloves before handling the patient.
The patient was moved to a cot, and paramedics attached an N-95 mask to her face and covered the remaining part of her body with a protective suit, sealed the ambulance and transferred the patient inside.
Out of an abundance of caution, Pentagon police shut down the Corridor 2 Pentagon entrance and a portion of the South parking lot.
Following a pre-set protocol, paramedics transported the patient to nearby Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, but for reasons that remain unclear the ambulance was turned away. The paramedics then drove the ambulance to Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia, where the woman was admitted to a secure area of the hospital.
Next, paramedics were taken to the Arlington County Fire Department Training Academy for debriefing. Because they had possibly been exposed to Ebola, they were placed in quarantine in their homes, and their family members were provided with other accommodations.
Later that day, paramedics learned that the patient did not have Ebola and, in fact, had intentionally misled them when she answered their questions. No reason has been given for her false answers.
The Pentagon incident served as a no-notice drill for Arlington County fire fighters. False alarm or not, Arlington County Local 2800 members were ready for Ebola and remain prepared and equipped to respond to any infectious disease incident.
“We have to play the game like it is real,” says Beer. “We have to protect not just ourselves but also do what is right for everyone in the area.”