Two fire marshals slowly and carefully got into and out of a water-resistant protective suit as Nassau County first responders relearned the buddy system at Nassau University Medical Center Thursday night.
The protective equipment is impermeable and includes a face mask, double gloves, a full bodysuit with a hood and goggles. It's meant to protect health care workers and first responders from patients exhibiting symptoms of Ebola.
Dr. Victor Politi, NUMC's CEO, told about 200 first responders and health care workers what they should do if they think a patient has Ebola. Firefighters and emergency medical technicians responding to calls should wear protective gear, expose as few people as possible to the virus, and ask questions about a patient's travel history, he said.
"You're used to running into HIV, tuberculosis, H1N1, SARS. . . . We've heard it all, it doesn't stop you guys," Politi said. "The reason that we feel confident in doing these things is we know what we're up against and how to protect ourselves."
He said that after first responders take a suspected Ebola patient to the hospital, EMTs and firefighters would go through decontamination. Then, they would be monitored closely for 21 days for symptoms of the disease. Their protective gear would be discarded at the hospital, and their ambulance would be left there.
"That ambulance should be placed out of service," Politi said. "We don't have an exact amount of time on how long these viruses will last."
Dispatchers and health care workers are being taught to ask questions about a patient's travel history and whether they have flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, aches and pains, and vomiting or diarrhea, he said. Because it's also flu season, he said, it's crucial for first responders to determine what the illness is by asking many questions.
Hands in the audience shot up over and over to ask logistical questions about dealing with patients and decontamination. Kurt Joseph, 25, a volunteer with the South Hempstead Fire Department, said he came to the lecture hoping to learn more about the equipment needed to deal with a possible Ebola patient. He said he learned the key is not to panic and to ask the right questions of the patient. "I feel more informed, I think that's the most important thing," Joseph said. "It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it."